Salisbury: Luxury tax could be trade hurdle for Phils

Salisbury: Luxury tax could be trade hurdle for Phils
May 21, 2011, 7:04 pm
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Saturday, May 21, 2011
Posted: 3:27 p.m.

By Jim Salisbury
CSNPhilly.com

Its that time of year again, time when we size up the Phillies flaws and make a list of all the trades the team should make.

Maybe weve become a little spoiled around here. Throughout this recent run of success, the Phillies have made significant in-season trades to firm up playoff runs. It 2008, it was Joe Blanton. In 2009, it was Cliff Lee. Last year, it was Roy Oswalt.

The Phillies offense has been miserable lately. They clearly need another hitter. OK, Ruben Amaro Jr., do what you do best: Go out and trade for one.

Not so fast.

Oh, its not that there wont be some bats out there this trading season. Minnesota could unload Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel. The White Sox could make Carlos Quentin available. San Diego could move Ryan Ludwick. The Mets would surely unload Carlos Beltran.

While the Phillies will certainly discuss these names Amaro and his lieutenants talk about everyone and everything trading for help could be more difficult this year than in recent years.

That is because the Phillies have serious payroll concerns. In fact, their bulging payroll has put them within shouting distance of Major League Baseballs Competitive Balance Tax threshold for the first time in team history.

According to CSNPhilly.com's calculations, the Phillies payroll, as recognized by MLB, currently stands at just over 175 million. That includes average annual values of contracts of players on the 40-man roster, benefits and signing bonuses.

By seasons end, the payroll could be even higher when performance and award bonuses are paid out to players. All this will put the Phillies right up against MLBs 178 million luxury tax threshold. The Phillies did receive 11 million from the Astros in the Oswalt trade, but that does not come off their payroll number as recognized by MLB for tax purposes.

Now, there are two ways to look at all of this: One is to say, This is great! After all those years of low payrolls, the Phillies are spending like the big boys they are. While they should be commended for that, one has to wonder how much higher the payroll can go and if the luxury tax the Phils would pay 22.5 percent for every dollar they go over 178 million is going to add another hurdle that Amaro must confront as he looks to fix the teams flaws before the July 31 trade deadline.

So now you can see why Amaro views Chase Utley who is expected to join the team in the next few days as something akin to a pretty big trade. Its why he hopes Domonic Brown can make a difference in the lineup. These guys are already on the payroll.

Amaro was asked the other day about whether he has payroll flexibility.

I dont know, he said. Our payroll is extremely high.

For Phillies fans, at least that answer was more encouraging than the one Amaro gave after he signed Lee last winter.

Were tapped out, he said that day.

With an official payroll of 175 million, the Phillies rank second in baseball behind only the Yankees, who are spending just under 200 million.

There are other hurdles standing in the way of the teams ability to add a hitter. Blanton figured to be a decent trade chip for the club, one that could free up some payroll and possibly bring back a hitter. But he is headed for the disabled list with an elbow that has been sore since spring training and is owed the remainder of his 8.5 million salary for this year and another 8.5 million for next year.

Theres no way a team is trading for him right now.

The Phils would free up some salary if they could deal Raul Ibanez and the remainder of his 11.5 million salary, but its unlikely they would find a taker. Trading Jimmy Rollins, who is making 8.5 million this season, would be an interesting consideration, but who would fill his spot at shortstop?

Another hurdle is the farm system. How many more holes do the Phillies want to blow in it? Maybe they can afford to deal a young pitching prospect because they are deep in them, especially at the Single A level, but position-player prospects are thin, and, in the words of one scout who has trailed the Phillies minor-league system for months, Dont trade Jonathan Singleton!

So remember all this as the weather gets warm and visions of another big, in-season Phillies trade begin to dance in your head.

Its not going to be so easy this year.

E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com

Related: Ready or not, Brown in Phils' lineup Saturday Is Monday the day Chase Utley returns?