Two Marches ago, the Phillies signed Scott Kingery to the biggest contract ever dealt to a drafted player with no big-league experience. Obviously, the franchise had identified its second baseman of the future and the present. Because, no matter how well he hit, the kid could pick it, a fielder on the level of shortstop Jimmy Rollins and third baseman Scott Rolen. Maybe better.
Since that day, Kingery has started 231 games: 113 at shortstop, 57 in center field, 45 at third base, six in left field, and two in right field.
Second base? Eight.
Kingery carries five gloves in his duffel bag. And while he’ll gladly wear any of them, he told me last spring that he prefers the little 11-incher he uses at second base — the position where he won the Gold Glove in 2017 as the best second baseman in all of baseball’s 10 minor leagues.
Larry Bowa told me last month that Kingery reminds him of former teammate Manny Trillo, who, as Bowa’s double-play partner, went to two All-Star games and won two Gold Gloves and a World Series in Philadelphia. I told Bowa that Kingery reminds me of Dustin Pedroia: similar build (5-foot-9-ish, 180-ish pounds), similar hands, similar bulldog attitude. Bowa didn’t disagree.
Kingery is a virtuosic second baseman with Conor McGregor’s hands, Michael Jackson’s feet, and Steph Curry’s range — a big part of the reason that, on March 24, 2018, the Phillies guaranteed Kingery at least $24 million over the next six years. And then they treated him like Nick Punto.
Kingery was “blocked” — quotes added for sarcasm — by Cesar Hernandez, which is like Kelly Clarkson blocking Adele. The Phillies let Hernandez walk in October, then signed shortstop Didi Gregorius, but instead of putting Kingery at second, where he belongs, and moving shortstop Jean Segura to third, where most aging, pudgy shortstops land, Segura will get the first shot at second base.
New manager Joe Girardi believes Segura will be more “comfortable” there. So Kingery, whose comfort is irrelevant, likely will play third.
Madness. Girardi should see the sense in giving Scotty JetPax the keys to the keystone. I do. So, when I got Joe alone Monday night at a pre-banquet cocktail hour, I stomped my feet. I flailed my arms. I paused, dramatically.
Girardi was unmoved:
“The way I look at it is, you have to put your best team on the field, not your best individual. So, if one guy is much more capable of playing the other position [Segura at second], and there’s not such a big gap at that other position [Kingery is a good third baseman], that’s the move you have to make." Then he smiled.
Girardi spent 21 of his 27 years as a major-league player, coach, or manager, dealing with insistent, manipulative reporters in Chicago and New York, so he is well-girded for such onslaughts. He then used a weapon I could never master nor match: Math.
"For me, I would rather have a ‘6′ and a ‘6′ on the field than a ’10′ and a '2,’ " he said. “That way, you’re above average in both positions. See?”
Yes, I see, but I don’t agree.
Girardi wasn’t calling Segura a "2″ at third, since he’s never seen him play there, but it’s a fair point. But only theory.
I’ve always said that asking Kingery to play any position besides second base was like asking Pavarotti to sing “Old Town Road.” He can handle it, but you’re not getting his best. I believe that translates at the plate.
Kingery, who will be 26 in April, is a .242 hitter with a .698 OPS. His numbers stink, and that’s because he’s prone to months-long slumps. Maybe that’s a result of having only 286 plate appearances at triple A, where players usually need a minimum of 650. More likely, it’s the result of not knowing where he’ll be playing, not just from game to game, but from inning to inning.
It doesn’t need to be this complicated. The arrival of Gregorius should move Segura, 30 in March, to third base, the way Girardi moved Alex Rodriguez to third when he became a Yankee at 28, so Derek Jeter could remain at short. Miguel Tejada, Hanley Ramirez, and even Cal Ripken Jr. managed to move 50 feet to their right at some point in their careers.
Girardi sounded unsure that Segura would survive the trip.
“I think it’s easier these days for a shortstop to go to second base. With the shift happening so much now, they’ve played on that side of the base," Girardi said, then questioned Segura’s reaction time: Second basemen "have time to field and to throw. Third base, you have less time to field.”
Segura played second in 2016 for Arizona, the only time in his eight-year major-league career that he didn’t play shortstop and the first time since Class A ball that he regularly played second base. Has Girardi even asked Segura what he wants to do?
“I have not spoken with him yet,” Girardi said. “Not in person.”
Girardi insists that he isn’t completely wedded to the idea himself — though, incredibly, it sounds like he’s thinking of keeping Segura at second beyond 2020.
“Didi’s a one-year deal," Girardi said, then dropped the bomb: “One of these guys could be going back to short next year.”
One of those guys? So, if his math works (I hate math), when third-base prospect Alec Bohm arrives in the majors next season, and Gregorius’ lease expires, Kingery might move from third base to shortstop?
Why do Gabe Kapler and Girardi hate Scott Kingery? Hair envy?
It’s not a matter of if this happens; rather, when it happens.
Segura is guaranteed about $43 million through 2022 with a full no-trade clause. In the last four seasons, he has been a .301 hitter with a .346 on-base percentage who averaged 82 strikeouts and 142 gamesmeaning Segura is productive, consistent, versatile, and relatively durable -- and unique among all Phillies except for Bryce Harper.
Girardi allowed himself some wiggle room, perhaps in the event that Segura turns out to be awful at second base.
“Every decision is not permanent,” Girardi told me. “You might go into the season one way, and it might look great in spring training, and then all of a sudden … .”
We can only hope.
Girardi is a student of the game, and, as he considers whether to move Segura to second or third, he might want to look at the guy who played on Bowa’s right when Trillo played on his left. That guy switched from shortstop to third base, too.