SAN DIEGO — The biggest free-agent fish are not coming to Philadelphia this offseason. That became clear Tuesday night when a Tweet from the New York Post’s Joel Sherman surfaced that Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius was reuniting with new Phillies manager Joe Girardi.
A team source later confirmed that the Phillies had agreed to a one-year deal worth $14 million with Gregorius.
There’s nothing disappointing about adding Gregorius to the mix. The man taxed with replacing a legend (Derek Jeter) on the most storied franchise in baseball history has proven to be a quality player in his own right.
His addition should make the Phillies’ infield defense better while also providing the lineup with another left-handed bat capable of hitting 25-plus home runs. His reputation as a leader is impeccable.
Had the 29-year-old Netherlands native not missed the Yankees’ first 61 games last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, he would probably still be in New York. But his absence gave the Yankees a chance to take a long look at young superstar Gleyber Torres at shortstop after they had signed D.J. LeMahieu to play second base. Gregorius, due a big payday, became the odd man out.
The Phillies, meanwhile, were in need of an infielder after declining to offer contracts to third baseman Maikel Franco and second baseman Cesar Hernandez. They should have also been at least a little uncomfortable with Jean Segura at shortstop after he committed a career-high 20 errors at the position a year ago. No National League shortstop made more.
Gregorius’ defense is likely to remind us more of Freddy Galvis than Segura’s first season in Philadelphia.
Segura is likely to move to second base with Scott Kingery playing third, but a team source said that’s not yet etched in stone. Segura last played the majority of his games at second base in 2016 with Arizona and he finished 13th in the National League MVP voting after hitting a career-high .319 with a league-leading 203 hits, including 41 doubles and 20 home runs.
Maybe the infield configuration the Phillies have settled upon will be for the best. The Phillies’ starting eight is also set with first baseman Rhys Hoskins joining Segura, Gregorius and Kingery on the infield. Andrew McCutchen will be in left field, Adam Haseley will be in center and Bryce Harper will handle right. J.T. Realmuto, who was named as the game’s top catcher on the inaugural All-MLB team Tuesday, will be back for his second of what figures to be many more seasons with the Phillies.
It’s a very good starting eight and it should match up well with the other teams in the division, especially if the Washington Nationals cannot re-sign free-agent third baseman Anthony Rendon and the Atlanta Braves lose free-agent third baseman Josh Donaldson.
What’s disappointing is that the Phillies could have done better. They could have signed Rendon. They could have signed Donaldson. They would have had to pay more. They would have had to exceed the $208 million barrier that comes with a 20% tax.
They were unwilling to do it.
Just a few hours before word leaked of Gregorius’ signing, agent Scott Boras was asked about the possibility of Rendon coming to Philadelphia.
“I think [with]) Philadelphia … there’s no stop sign,” Boras said. “Their attitude of the ownership is aggressive, so I’m sure that John [Middleton] is sitting back and looking and saying, ‘What can I do to be the best?’ ”
Middleton, one year after giving Harper the biggest free-agent contract in history, may not have put up a stop sign, but he at least told the front office to yield after the team signed pitcher Zack Wheeler for five years and $118 million.
On paper, at least, the Phillies are still far away from being the best team in their own division, let alone the league. The signing of Rendon or even Donaldson would have brought them closer to that high bar.
Girardi, whose presence undoubtedly helped attract Gregorius to Philadelphia, indicated Monday that Wheeler would be the Phillies’ biggest free-agent signing this offseason and that’s going to be the case.
Houston’s Gerrit Cole is reportedly heading to the Yankees and it’s obvious now that Rendon is going to play somewhere other than Philadelphia.
It is also clear that third base is going to be available for top prospect Alec Bohm to take over if and when he proves he is ready to step into the big leagues. There are disagreements among baseball people about whether he can play that position, but the Phillies are convinced at the moment that he can and with Gregorius only signing for one year, it should open the door for Bohm to be a regular in the big leagues no later than 2021.
This is also clear: The Phillies still have needs, especially in the starting rotation and the bullpen. If Klentak’s calculations Monday were correct, the team is now roughly $6 million or less under the $208 million, tax-free payroll limit. All indications are that they will now be looking for bargains.