It was addition by subtraction, but there was some risk involved. It was not surprising that the Phillies parted ways Monday night with second baseman Cesar Hernandez and third baseman Maikel Franco, the two longest-tenured members of the team as well as lightning rods for all the things that went wrong for the ballclub during this about-to-end decade.
Hernandez, who had been with the organization since 2007 and part of the big-league club since 2013, showed signs of being a staple at second base during his Phillies career. The numbers are kind to him and make the case that he has been among baseball’s top 10 second basemen over the last four years. FanGraphs.com has him ranked seventh with an 11.0 fWAR since 2016.
But if you watched him every day, you saw the flaws. There were too many mental lapses in the field and on the basepaths and not enough power to compensate for those faults. Given a chance to be a leader as the longest-tenured member of a team that had a heavy Latin presence, he instead opted to remain mostly quiet, speaking publicly only when absolutely necessary.
Still, there’s a chance the Phillies will one day regret Hernandez’s departure. Despite the fact he has been around so long, he will only be 29 when next season begins and he will have no problem finding a job, although it will probably be for less than the close to $12 million the Phillies likely would have had to pay him in salary arbitration. Hernandez could have some very good years ahead and even prove to be a better option at second base than Scott Kingery, whose future we will discuss in a moment.
As for Franco, the Phillies had to say goodbye to him. It was best for them and best for him. Franco arrived in the big leagues in 2014 just seven days after his 22nd birthday and ranked as the No. 17 prospect in the game by Baseball America. Despite a promising rookie season in 2015 – he hit .280 with 22 doubles and 14 home runs in 80 games – Franco never lived up to his star potential and by the end of the 2019 season it was clear his time in Philadelphia was over.
After being demoted to triple-A Lehigh Valley in early August, he is likely thankful his time with the Phillies has expired. He is still only 27 and there is power in his bat. It will be interesting to see if another team can get Franco to become the 30-plus home-run guy that he was expected to be here. To Franco’s credit, he played the best defense of his career last season. He does not have a lot of range, but if he can hit 30 home runs and 25 doubles while catching everything hit at him, he will become an everyday player again. Those are big ifs, but not impossible to imagine.
The object now for the Phillies, of course, is to get better without Hernandez and Franco, which brings us back to Kingery. Before they start putting the pieces together for the 2020 season, the Phillies must first decide how to best use Kingery. Even though he has played third base, shortstop and center field far more than he has played second base during his first two big-league seasons, his best value is still at the position he played the most in the minor leagues.
His combination of power and defense – provided he can still play the position the way he did at Reading and Lehigh Valley and provided he continues to take steps forward in 2020 – will make Kingery an elite second baseman. As a third baseman, his power tool is below average and at shortstop, his defense is just average. Kingery, 25, has shown the ability to play center field, too, and, in the short term, he could help them most there because there is a shortage of quality free agents at that position.
Two of the biggest free-agent stars, on the other hand, are available at third base: Washington’s Anthony Rendon and Atlanta’s Josh Donaldson. Kris Bryant of the Cubs might also be on the trade block, but the talks for the three-time All-Star and former MVP probably start with Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard, the Phillies’ two best prospects. I don’t make that deal.
If I’m the Phillies, I finally give Kingery a chance to play his best position on a daily basis.
With Kingery at second base, the offseason focus moves to third base and center field among the position players. It seems logical that the Phillies, with new manager Joe Girardi, could go after Didi Gregorius and let him become the shortstop while moving Jean Segura to third base.
That’s not a perfect solution because Segura has never played third base and he’s not a power hitter, but Gregorius is capable of hitting 25 home runs and is an upgrade defensively at shortstop. A year from now, Bohm should be ready to play in the big leagues and he could give the Phillies two corner infielders capable of hitting 30-plus homers.
The solution in center field is not so clear right now, but maybe Adam Haseley gets the first chance after showing signs of being a quality player during his rookie season.