Scott Kingery dropped a notch Wednesday on the Phillies payroll as Didi Gregorius’ new contract slipped Kingery to the Phillies’ seventh-highest paid position player on the 40-man roster. And Gregorius’ deal — $28 million over two seasons — also bumped Kingery out of the starting lineup.
The Phillies will pay Kingery $4.25 million this season, but they remain unsure where they will play him. He started last season as the starting second baseman but hit just .159 with a .511 OPS. He was slowed in summer camp by COVID-19 and injuries nagged him throughout the season.
Kingery has started nearly 70% of the team’s games since 2018 but now finds himself without a place to play. Gregorius returned to play shortstop and Joe Girardi said Wednesday that Jean Segura is the starting second baseman, leaving Kingery on the outside of the team’s infield picture.
“Scotty is going to fight for his playing time all over the field in a sense,” Girardi said. “Scotty is versatile, which allows us to give guys days off. We can move him around. We were hoping last year to get him to one position, but it just never happened because he got sick and he was never the player that we thought he would be, probably because of the COVID. Then he hurt his shoulder and then his back and there were a lot of things he went through last year.”
Girardi’s plan to use Kingery as a super-utility player is similar to how former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler viewed Kingery three years ago after former general manager Matt Klentak awarded Kingery with a $24 million contract in 2018 to push him onto the opening-day roster.
Kapler, who came to the Phillies after running the Dodgers’ minor-league system, dreamed of molding Kingery into the type of versatile players he saw in Los Angeles.
“Think about it like this,” Kapler said a month before the Phillies signed Kingery to his major-league contract. “We don’t know who the next Chris Taylor is. We don’t know who our version of Chris Taylor is going to be. So we’d be foolish to not see if we can sort of get everyone thinking like that, especially when we have talented, athletic dudes, young dudes like we do.”
In two seasons , Kapler played Kingery at every position except catcher and first base. Kingery even pitched. But it would have been hard to confuse Kingery for Taylor, the MVP of the 2017 NL Championship Series and owner of an .811 OPS over the last four seasons.
Kingery’s offensive production — a .677 OPS in three seasons — has never matched the success he had in the minors before signing his $24 million contract. He showed glimpses of promise in 2019 by positing a .897 OPS in May and June, but he failed to sustain it.
The Phillies tried last season to settle him at one position, perhaps believing that his defensive versatility was holding back his offense. They started him at second and moved Segura to third base for the first time in his career. But the decision was short-lived.
Segura finished with five more starts at second base than Kingery and Alec Bohm emerged as the everyday third baseman. Gregorius, who had an .827 OPS last season, will handle shortstop again and Kingery will return to the utility role Kapler created for him.
“We’re looking for a healthy Scotty Kingery to make a huge impact all around the diamond,” Girardi said. “Because I really believe that he’s capable of doing that.”
Kingery started his college career in the outfield and has made a fourth of his major-league starts in center field. That two-month run in 2019 came with Kingery mostly playing the outfield. And it just so happens that center field — shared last season mostly by Kingery, Roman Quinn, and Adam Haseley — is the lone position up for grabs in Clearwater.
“I would say that’s one spot that we have to iron out in 6½ weeks is the way I kind of look at it,” Girardi said. “Six weeks, approximately 30 games. That’s the one spot that has been really the spot that we’re not sure who’s going to take hold of it. And in saying that, you could take hold of it in spring training, but you have to continue to produce, because there’s going to be other guys that are trying to get that spot, so that will definitely be a competition.”
Kingery will report later this month to spring training as a super-utility player. But there’s a chance that he could have an everyday role in center field by the time camp breaks. Six weeks in Florida could be enough for Kingery to settle himself again in one position.
“I think there’s routes of playing time all over, because we’re not going to play guys every day,” Girardi said. “Because of the versatility of Jean Segura, being able to move him all around, Scott can fill in a lot of different places. He could fill in at second. Let’s say you give Rhys [Hoskins] a day off. You could move Alec to first, you can put Jean at third, and you can put Scott at second. Let’s say that you give Didi a day off. You could possibly put Jean at short, put Scotty at second, you know. There’s gonna be plenty of at-bats for Scott Kingery if he produces the way that he’s capable of. And he could play center field.”