The Phillies thought enough last winter of Didi Gregorius to reward him with the only multiyear contract for a free-agent shortstop. But nine months later — and with $14 million remaining on his contract — the Phillies are no longer guaranteeing Gregorius a starting role.
He was one of baseball’s least productive players this season, hitting just .209 with a .639 OPS while ranking fourth from the bottom among shortstops in defensive runs saved. According to Baseball Reference, Gregorius was worth -0.8 Wins Above Replacement, but his contract paid him as if he was worth three WAR.
And now the Phillies are considering alternatives.
“It very well could be him. But he knows, we’ve had a discussion with him, that he needs to be better,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said on Wednesday. “We’re in a position where we also are going to be open-minded to what’s going to take place at shortstop next year. It could be internal. It could be him if he comes back.”
Dombrowski said in January that the Phillies were thrilled to sign Gregorius, who had been one of their best hitters in 2020. Four other shortstops — Freddy Galvis, Andrelton Simmons, Marcus Semien, and Kyle Farmer — signed one-year deals elsewhere before Gregorius scored his two-year deal worth $28 million.
The Phillies, Dombrowski said after the signing, “really didn’t mind giving him the two-year deal” and “were happy to do so” as “he’s at the time of his career where he’s not only a good performer, but age-wise it all seemed to fit in.”
But now that contract will hang over the Phillies’ offseason as they have $14 million committed to a player whom they can’t guarantee will be in the starting lineup. Does Dombrowski regret it?
“I don’t usually look at it like that. It was the price of doing business at that particular moment,” he said. “We look for him to bounce back next year. We know he’s a better player than he played this year. He had a tough year this year, but he’s a better player than that.”
Gregorius, 31, was slowed this season by pseudogout, a painful condition in his right elbow that he said affected his swing. Gregorius is treating the condition with medicine, but he’s unsure if it will go away. He said last month that he was considering offseason surgery.
It’s hard to imagine that the Phillies would be able to trade Gregorius this winter because of his salary, injury, and poor performance. They could release him, but it would be a significant financial loss. The likely scenario seems to have Gregorius reporting to spring training, where the Phillies can assess his performance before making a decision.
“It was not a good offensive year. He’s always been an offensive shortstop,” Dombrowski said. “But the one thing from a defensive perspective that he’s always done in his career is catch the routine play. He hasn’t always had the greatest range. But he just didn’t do that this year on a consistent basis. Now, he was hurt some, I know the arm bothered him some. He had some injury factors. Maybe it is him. And he will come in shape.
“We’ll just see how he does at that point, but he’s not guaranteed that he’s been told that he’s for sure the shortstop. It doesn’t mean that he can’t play other positions for us, too. And maybe we’ll have a DH that’ll be part of our club, too, next year.”
The commitment to Gregorius’ salary likely takes the Phillies out of a high-profile shortstop market headed by Carlos Correra, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, and Javy Baez. It seems challenging to sign one of those players while also paying Gregorius’ $14 million.
The Phillies could look internally at 24-year-old Bryson Stott, who hit .301 with a .848 OPS at double-A Reading but played just 10 games at triple A. Dombrowski said Stott “may not have the range of Ozzie Smith,” but the Phillies like him at shortstop. If Stott needs more time in the minors, they could re-sign Galvis to fill shortstop until Stott arrives.
“We need to get better at shortstop,” Dombrowski said. “We need to, if it’s internally or externally, whatever it may be, we need to do that.”
Strength coach, PR director out
The Phillies fired Paul Fournier, their major-league strength and conditioning coach, and Greg Casterioto, their communications director, this week.
Fournier, popular among players, joined the Phillies in 2012 as a minor-league strength coach before moving to the majors after the 2013 season. Casterioto, well respected by both players and the press, started as an intern in 2000 before climbing to his current role. Several players were stunned by both firings as the Phillies dismissed two employees with a combined 30 years of service.
“It’s hard to let go of anyone,” Dombrowski said. “This has not been a pleasant week.”