The Philadelphia Phillies’ infield is starting to take shape while the MLB Winter Meetings are going on in San Diego. The team signed free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year deal worth $14 million that won’t see them lose a draft pick as his former club, the New York Yankees, didn’t offer him a qualifying offer.
Gregorius didn’t have a strong year in 2019 – 0.6 WAR was the least he’s had in a season since his first year in the majors with the Reds in 2012, when he played only 8 games and accumulated a total of 0.1 wins above replacement. In fact, he’s recorded more than 1.0 in every season from 2013 to 2018.
The Dutchman batted .239 – his lowest batting average in three years. If the Phillies want this to work, they need the 2016-2018 Gregorius, who had three straight 20-homer seasons and received AL MVP votes in the latter two. He isn’t very flexible when it comes to defensive positioning as there’s no other alternative to shortstop, but he’s still a considerably reliable option.
What’s more impressive with that deal is that it’s actually pretty team-friendly and smart. If Didi Gregorius never returns to top form, Philadelphia will have the chance to let him leave after having paid less than the amount of a qualifying offer and staying just under the luxury tax. If he reaches his peak again, and we know that he’s a terrific player at his best, the Phillies will have possibly found their long-term shortstop.
Whether he turns out to be a successful acquisition or not, it’s almost certain that he’ll make the team a lot better offensively. Last year Mikel Franco, no longer with the team, also missed some time due to injury, just like Gregorius. Franco had about 100 more at bats – Gregorius had 5 more RBI than Franco and a higher OPS. After 2019 woes, it has been somewhat obvious than things aren’t going to work out between the Phils and Franco – and Philly isn’t thinking of delaying the inevitable either.
Franco’s only had one lone season batting .270 and it was in 2018. Meanwhile, he hasn’t had a season with 380+ AB that has seen him record .800 on base plus slugging. Franco is as close to a one-year wonder as there could be for the Phillies and keeping him could’ve left a hard-to-swallow hole in the team’s batting order.
Now Gregorius takes over him in the lineup. The former Yankee’s issue is that it’s difficult to count on him rebounding from last season but a healthy campaign with a fresh start could prove otherwise. The belief around Major League Baseball front offices was, and still probably is, that the Amsterdam native is bound to return to top form, which explains interest from organizations such as the Reds and the Rangers who clearly either struggled at the plate last season or lost a vital part of their offensive production.
The Phillies aren’t exactly that kind of suitor – they ranked 14th in runs scored in all of baseball, and Franco had absolutely zero contributions, so even if this move is a gamble and proves not to pay off, it is more than worth it.
Philadelphia general manager Matt Klentak, who came under criticism after an unsatisfying 2019 season, held on to his promise of spending big bucks last winter, signing Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius to fairly reasonably priced contracts. They may not fix all the holes that the Phillies have, which seem to be many after last season’s debacle, but business has been smart and that speaks highly about Klentak’s work.
That might’ve further been confirmed by Bryce Harper’s contract, which finally started to pay off at the end of the 2019 season. Still to be evaluated are Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson among the two newest stars on the team’s roster.