Will the Phillies be able to compete in free agency next year?

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CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 10: Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles throws to first base against the Cleveland Indians in the third inning at Progressive Field on September 10, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Orioles 3-2, (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 10: Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles throws to first base against the Cleveland Indians in the third inning at Progressive Field on September 10, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Orioles 3-2, (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images) /
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It is still a year away, but teams are already preparing for the monster 2018-2019 free agency class. Will the Phillies be able to compete with them?

The Phillies surprised everyone last week when they signed free agent first baseman Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million contract. It was their biggest splash in free agency since signing Cliff Lee in the 2010-2011 offseason.

This move was so surprising because the team seemingly already had a starting first baseman in Rhys Hoskins. Also, this is the kind of signing a team near or already in contention makes, not one that was the third-worst team in baseball makes.

The Santana signing was part of a string of moves that is meant to bring the team towards contention in 2018. Prior to signing Santana, the club inked two relievers (Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter) to two-year deals to shore up the back end of the bullpen. They also traded Freddy Galvis to clear the way for J.P. Crawford at shortstop.

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General manager Matt Klentak is still expected to try and acquire a young, controllable starter through trade to pair with Aaron Nola at the front of the rotation. He will likely use some combination of Cesar Hernandez, one of the outfielders displaced by Hoskins’ likely move to left field, and a group of prospects to acquire this starter. According to Matt Gelb and Matt Breen of Philly.com, Klentak has inquired about Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, Toronto’s Marcus Stroman, and Kansas City’s Danny Duffy.

Gelb wrote earlier this week that all these moves are meant to at least make the team relevant in 2018. In the best-case scenario, they could make a run at a wild-card spot, but it’s safe to assume 2018 probably won’t be the year Philadelphia returns to the playoffs. Instead, Gelb says that these moves are meant to prepare for the 2018-2019 offseason that is expected to see some of the best players in baseball hit free agency.

However, Philadelphia not the only team preparing for free agency next season. Last Saturday, the Dodgers shed more than $51 million of contracts by trading Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, and Charlie Culberson to the Braves for Matt Kemp. While Kemp is still owed $43.5 million over the next two seasons, he may not ever play for the Dodgers in that time as they are expected to release or trade him before the 2018 season starts.

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The motivation for this move was obvious: get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018 to reset their penalty. The Dodgers have been over the threshold the last two seasons, paying a 30% luxury tax for their payroll in 2017. By getting back under this threshold, they will only have to pay a 20% tax rather than 50% for 2019, which could add up to a lot of money given the contracts expected to be handed out next offseason.

Los Angeles isn’t the only team preparing for next offseason. The Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton and almost all of his massive contract.

They needed to shed some salary from their payroll to help, and they did it by sending Chase Headley back to where he started his career in San Diego. They could also trade Clint Frazier to clear up even more room on their payroll. No matter how much salary New York does or doesn’t shed, they will still be players next year just because of how much money they can spend need be.

The Yankees, Dodgers, and plenty of other teams are expected to take heavy runs at the cream of next year’s free agency crop, namely Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Both of those names have been linked to Philadelphia as potential targets. But would they want to sign here?

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WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 12: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals of the Washington Nationals celebrates after scoring against the Chicago Cubs during the sixth inning in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

If you were Machado, would you rather play third base on a team that already has two superstars in Aaron Judge and Stanton and is expected to make a World Series run in 2018, or a Phillies team that still won’t even sniff the playoffs until at least 2019? The same thing applies for Harper and the Dodgers, who are also playoff contenders with their wave of young talent.

Klentak has definitely recognized that he needs to improve the Phils in 2018 to make them more appealing in free agency next year, but will it be enough to sway Harper, Machado, or another top free agent to come to Philadelphia? In the end, they have the money to outbid other teams, but they would be in a bidding war with two of the highest-paying teams in baseball. It may not be enough.

Next: Would Kapler have Rhys Hoskins hit leadoff?

We will have to wait and see how the 2018 season goes before we can make any judgement about if the Phillies can compete in free agency next year. As of right now, whether or not they can is definitely up in the air.

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