Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. left the impression at the Winter Meetings that the club would look to keep its payroll in line with last year's. As he told reporters, including CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury: "We should be contending with this kind of payroll, at $165MM or $170MM, wherever it shakes out."
After taking a look at the team's current obligations, writes Corey Seidman of CSNPhilly.com, it appears that Philadelphia has already spent up to that level after accounting for pre-arb players and projected arbitration salaries. (Seidman's rough math shows the team currently standing at $165MM for 2014, which is the low end of the band suggested by Amaro.) The free agent signings of Carlos Ruiz, Wil Nieves, Marlon Byrd, and Roberto Hernandez tacked on over $22MM to the club's payroll for the coming season, seemingly coming close to exhausting Amaro's war chest.
As I explained in breaking down the Phils' offseason needs, one option was for the club simply to tick through its list of needs by adding non-premier veterans. That seems to be essentially what has taken place, with the aforementioned players occupying the gaps found at catcher, the corner outfield, and the starting rotation.
Of course, as I also argued in that piece, the Phillies have roughly 17.5 wins above replacement to make up (as against their 2013 total) to look like a playoff team. If these signings work out, and things break right elsewhere, the Phillies should have the overall talent level to make a run at the post-season. But, on those kinds of favorable assumptions, so do many other clubs.
On paper at least, Philly still figures to land behind the Nationals and Braves in pre-season NL East forecasts. Indeed, it would not be surprising to see the Mets and Marlins tapped by some to finish ahead of the Phils. (After all, both New York and Miami have made some potentially impactful additions and generally feature younger rosters that may be more likely to make strides.) Not only does it remain unclear whether recent spending is warranted, given the rest of the roster, but the club has also not acted decisively to bolster its future talent pipeline.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether the Phillies have spent all available funds for the coming year, especially since there is still some possibility that they will shed some of Jonathan Papelbon's salary. But as things stand, the team's strategy of adding veteran pieces to its aging core brings with it much the same risk that came to life last year, when the club fell out of contention and suffered a significant attendance drop. For a franchise that faces a young talent deficit and is trying to negotiate a big, new TV deal, the consequences of those risks are increasingly magnified.