If you’re into grand, sweeping narratives, if you’re a believer that life is a chain of events and that breaking even one link causes the whole sequence to fall apart, then it’s easy to see that Scott Kingery’s supplanting Maikel Franco as the Phillies’ everyday third baseman didn’t happen just Sunday.
The process began, actually, in March of last year, when the Phillies signed Kingery to a six-year contract that guaranteed him $24 million. By then, the shine on Franco’s star already had begun to dull. Too many ground balls. Too many pop-ups. Too low an OPS from Franco. Too many good signs from Kingery as he was making his way up the farm system. Eventually, something was going to give, and on Sunday, it did, when the Phillies demoted Franco to triple A.
“The most logical way for us to get Scott more at-bats right now is at third base,” manager Gabe Kapler said before the team’s 10-5 loss to the White Sox.
That’s the right-here-right-now rationale for the decision. And Lord knows, with the Phillies’ pitching staff in such ratty condition (aside from Aaron Nola) and with their offense so inconsistent (to be kind), getting Kingery, his 13 home runs in fewer than 300 at-bats, and his .828 OPS into the lineup every day has to be a priority for a team desperate to stay in the race for the National League’s second wild-card spot. Franco had put together that promising rookie season in 2015, and he was well-liked and even loved by his teammates. But the Phillies aren’t a good enough team to continue running out a below-average offensive player at a power position just because he’s a popular figure in the clubhouse.
They certainly can’t do it now, and they can’t do it next season, either, no matter how much they might improve their pitching staff or lineup over the winter. So they took the calculated chance that Kingery, who has played five positions for them already this season, could handle playing third more.
“What I’d probably say is that Scott Kingery, when we moved him to shortstop, took some time to get used to it, and then was a pretty good shortstop,” Kapler said. “When he moved to center field, he took a little time to get used to it, then was a pretty good centerfielder. Just about anywhere on the diamond, Scott is going to — if not immediately, very soon thereafter — be a plus defender at that position. I have no doubt that Scott is going to be a good third baseman for us.”
He was flawless there Sunday, fielding three ground balls without a problem.
“I’ve moved around quite a bit,” said Kingery, who had a double and an RBI single in the game. “So it’s just another move.”
Given the choice, though, he’d rather play second base — “I’m better there,” he said, “just because it’s natural” — and his comfort there gets to the longer-term importance of having him replace Franco.
That facet of the move, the future, is particularly intriguing. The Phillies signed Kingery to that contract before he had a single day of major-league service time. It was a gambit unusual not just in their history — and yes, the relatively new management team of Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak was behind the decision — but in Major League Baseball. That’s how certain they were that Kingery would develop into a terrific player, that he would justify the contact, even render it a bargain, and they are affording him every available opportunity to do so.
He had been a second baseman, one whom the Phillies believed had elite defensive skills, throughout his minor-league career. (The irony, of course, is that of the five positions Kingery has played for the Phillies this season, he has spent less time only in left field than he has at second.) But he had been a shortstop in high school and a centerfielder in college, too, and it’s no coincidence that he has either pushed and/or replaced three of the most enigmatic players on the roster these last two seasons: Franco, Odubel Herrera, and Cesar Hernandez. The Phillies invested years of time and effort in trying to develop each of them, and none of those three has done enough on the field — and obviously, in Herrera’s case, off the field — to give anyone reason to think he would be a meaningful contributor to a championship-caliber team.