SAN DIEGO -- It might wind up being only a short stop for Didi Gregorius, but the Phillies have found their 2020 shortstop.
Gregorius and the Phillies agreed to terms Tuesday on a one-year contract, according to multiple sources. The deal is worth $14 million, one source said, which fits neatly within the team’s budget while also keeping the payroll below the $208 million luxury-tax threshold. Signing free-agent third basemen Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson would have taken the Phillies over the threshold, another source said, citing market trends.
By landing Gregorius, the Phillies addressed what general manager Matt Klentak described as their "main focus" during the winter meetings here at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. They also made what almost certainly will be their final headline-grabbing move of the offseason with two weeks still left before Christmas.
The Phillies still have needs, especially in the pitching realm. But the rest of their offseason business will involve waiting out the pitching market for bargains and getting creative to unearth potentially undervalued talent on cut-rate big-league contracts or minor-league deals.
Team officials declined to discuss the deal with Gregorius until he passes the requisite physical. But a source said Gregorius’ familiarity with new manager Joe Girardi after having played for him with the New York Yankees was a significant factor in his decision to sign with the Phillies over other interested clubs, including the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, the team that signed him as an international amateur out of Curaçao in 2007.
“He’s a very talented player,” Girardi said last week at Citizens Bank Park. “Left-handed bat. Power. Plays an outstanding shortstop. I’ve always been a big fan of Didi.”
With Gregorius slotted in at shortstop, the Phillies will move Jean Segura to either second base or third base. A decision on Segura’s position might not come until spring training. The Phillies like the idea of Scott Kingery and Gregorius in the middle infield, but Segura has experience at second base, not third. Kingery, meanwhile, has played both infield positions.
The signing of Gregorius also creates an opportunity for Adam Haseley to secure the everyday center-field job. The 2017 first-round draft pick batted .266 with five homers, a .324 on-base percentage and a .720 OPS in 222 at-bats as a rookie last season, numbers that were in line with the National League average for center fielders (.254 average, .321 on-base, .741 OPS).
Gregorius, who turns 30 in February, batted .238 with 16 homers and a .718 OPS last season. He was sidelined until June 7 after recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in October 2018. Although there aren’t many shortstops who have undergone the procedure that is common among pitchers (Corey Seager and Gleyber Torres are among the few), the Phillies are betting Gregorius will return to his pre-injury levels based on their analysis of his throws and underlying offensive metrics.
By agreeing to a one-year contract, Gregorius is making the same wager. If his numbers with the Phillies align with, say, his 2017-18 production with the Yankees (.277 average, 52 homers, .812 OPS), he could re-enter the market next winter and aim for a higher annual salary in a multiyear arrangement.
Gregorius represents a defensive upgrade over Segura. But it was his reputation as a leader that might have been the Phillies' biggest attraction. Girardi noted last week that Gregorius replaced Yankees icon Derek Jeter and quickly became a focal point of clubs that made back-to-back-to-back playoff appearances from 2017-19.
"He's a real character guy and he's a real hard worker that is a really important clubhouse presence," Girardi said. "I felt that he was important to the clubhouse in New York in what he brought every day."
With the Yankees, Girardi often put Gregorius in the middle or bottom half of the batting order, even using him in the cleanup spot for long stretches. The Phillies’ opening-day lineup could look something like this:
LF Andrew McCutchen
C J.T. Realmuto
RF Bryce Harper
1B Rhys Hoskins
Once the Gregorius signing becomes official, the Phillies' payroll will be approximately $202 million against the luxury tax. The penalty for going over the $208 million threshold for the first time is a 20% tax on every dollar up to $228 million.
Managing partner John Middleton has said he’s willing to go over the threshold only if the Phillies have a chance to do more than merely secure the second National League wild-card spot. It’s reasonable, then, to infer that he might be more apt to consider paying the tax if the Phillies get off to a strong start and are in the playoff mix at the trade deadline.