The Phillies, like most teams around the league, have plenty of work to do once the lockout is resolved and a new collective bargaining agreement is in place. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Corey Seidman writes the Phils “pursued [Kyle] Schwarber hard” prior to the lockout but weren’t able to finalize an agreement.
The 28-year-old Schwarber (29 in March) shook off a slow couple months to begin the 2021 season, ripping through MLB pitching at a Herculean clip throughout the summer and into the postseason. The longtime Cubs slugger inked a one-year deal with the Nats last winter, found himself traded to the Red Sox despite being on the injured list due to a hamstring injury, and finished the regular season with a combined .266/.374/.554 batting line and 32 home runs in just 471 plate appearances. Schwarber added three more homers in the playoffs, though he closed out October with an 0-for-15 skid following an epic grand slam in Game 3 of the ALCS.
When finished, the new collective bargaining agreement is expected to include a universal designated hitter, which would make it easier for the Phillies (or another team) to slide the defensively challenged Schwarber into the lineup. He could still see some reps in left field or even at first base, of course, but Schwarber would be viewed largely as a much-needed bat to pair with reigning MVP Bryce Harper in Philadelphia.
Schwarber ought to have plenty of other suitors, as he’s been linked to the Red Sox, Nationals, Marlins and others since the offseason began. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported not long ago that Schwarber is seeking a deal of at least three years and $20MM annually, though with enough competition the asking price could obviously further increase.
While supplementing the lineup with some help for Harper is a major goal, it wasn’t the top priority for Philadelphia this winter. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made clear that solidifying the ninth inning was one of his top needs this winter, and the Phils look to have checked that box already.
Corey Knebel and the Phillies got their one-year, $10MM contract in just hours before the expiration of the 2016-21 CBA, and he’s expected to serve as the team’s closer in 2022, writes Matt Gelb of The Athletic. Dombrowski noted that he did not promise that role to Knebel (link viaNBC Philly’s Jim Salisbury), but he strongly suggested as much, telling reporters that Knebel opted for a one-year deal in order “to show people that he’s a dominant closer again” now that he’s healthier.
Knebel, who had Tommy John surgery in 2019, saw his fastball velocity jump two miles per hour from the 94.6 mph he averaged in his abbreviated return to the mound in 2020. While his 29.7% strikeout rate didn’t match the ridiculous 40.2% mark he posted in Milwaukee from 2017-18, it was nevertheless a strong mark and a reminder that Knebel can be as dominant as any reliever in the game when at his best.
Gelb suggests that a subsequent acquisition of Craig Kimbrel is unlikely to be in the cards, as the Phils aren’t likely to want to commit $26.5MM to a pair of relievers. Still, Knebel certainly won’t be the only addition to the ’pen. Said Dombrowski: “We’ve got a guy that we think will close games for us, and that’s a big start. Then we can kind of build the rest of the bullpen.”
The addition of Knebel and the Phillies’ one-year, $1.4MM deal with utilityman Johan Camargo pushed the team’s payroll to a bit more than $181MM — with a near-identical tally in terms of luxury obligations, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez. That’s well shy of last year’s $197MM end-of-season payroll and the even-larger $206.5MM in luxury obligations the team carried. Assuming the $210MM luxury-tax threshold is ultimately increased in a new CBA, the Phils could have quite a bit more luxury breathing room than the $29MM they already possess at the moment.