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Tax? What tax? Perhaps the Phillies should follow the Mets' bold strategy.

Scott Lauber, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Baseball

As word leaked Monday that the New York Mets — the New York Mets! — agreed on a record contract with Max Scherzer — Max Scherzer! — that boosted the sum of their post-Thanksgiving splurge to $254.5 million — $254.5 million! — the first impulse among many Phillies fans was to file a missing-persons report on owner John Middleton, who has thus far sat out free agency.

Breathe in, breathe out.

The Phillies’ most urgent needs are for a middle-of-the-order hitter and a closer. Scherzer is neither. And while dozens of free agents are rushing to sign contracts before the collective bargaining agreement expires at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday and the owners purportedly lock out the players for as long as it takes to hammer out a new deal, most of the slugging outfielders (Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto, Chris Taylor, and Kris Bryant) and experienced closers (Raisel Iglesias, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon) are not among them.

So, again, inhale and exhale. Now repeat. Spring training is (at least) 11 weeks away, and plenty of good players are still available.

But the Mets’ actions since Friday revive a roster-building discussion that is relevant to the Phillies, chiefly whether there is an appropriate time in the life of an organization to blow past the competitive-balance tax threshold, whatever it may be in the next CBA, with no concern for the penalties, whatever they may be.

The Mets, like the Phillies, have a top-heavy, depth-challenged roster, with core players in their prime (Jacob deGrom, Francisco Lindor, and Pete Alonso). Like the Phillies, the Mets’ farm system lacks major-league-ready prospects. And the Mets, like the Phillies, haven’t made the playoffs in too long to satisfy a passionate fan base in a large Northeast market.

 

So, Mets owner Steve Cohen decided the time has come to flex his wallet, the team’s biggest competitive advantage. He is baseball’s wealthiest owner, by far, and in four days, he bought a leadoff man (Starling Marte), two veteran hitters (Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha), and a future Hall of Fame starter (Scherzer) who happens to be 14-4 with a 2.50 ERA in his career against the Phillies.

The Mets’ estimated 2022 payroll, according to Fangraphs, is $268 million, $65 million more than their final 2021 payroll and $58 million more than the $210 million competitive-balance tax threshold this year. And they’re still looking to add more pitching.

Cohen’s message: Tax? What tax?

Nobody knows what the tax structure will be under the new CBA. It’s possible the owners will agree to raise the bar from $210 million in exchange for harsher penalties for teams that exceed it, making it seem even more like a salary cap and therefore less desirable to the players. Presently, the tax is progressive, with first-time offenders taxed at a rate of 20% on all outlays over the threshold.

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