LAS VEGAS — Gabe Kapler called Scott Kingery last week after the Phillies acquired shortstop Jean Segura and told Kingery that his role in 2019 would be similar to the one he played last season.
Kingery raced through the minors as a second baseman but became a utility player last spring when he reached the majors, as Cesar Hernandez commanded second base. Kingery played seven positions last season, and it seemed that his new role diminished his offense. He registered only a .605 OPS.
Perhaps the Phillies would try this winter to find a remedy for Kingery, to whom they committed $24 million before last season, by trading Hernandez and freeing up second base. But they found a market oversaturated with free-agent second basemen. With diminished returns available, the Phillies believe they’re better off keeping Hernandez.
“I’ve never been that keen on trading Cesar,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “We’ve been asked about him for the last couple years. I really like Cesar. I like the element that he brings to our team as a high-on-base, high-walk second baseman, table-setter type who’s been very consistent over the last three years.”
Klentak revealed that Hernandez played the second half of last season with a broken foot after fouling a ball off it in early July. The injury, Klentak said, did not require surgery. It could explain why Hernandez hit just .236 with a .665 OPS after the injury. He was hitting .268 with a .764 OPS before it. He finished the season with his lowest on-base percentage, .356, in three years.
“I don't want to penalize Cesar for that,” Klentak said. “For him playing through pain in a pennant race, I think on a healthy foot Cesar would have had a third straight year of numbers in that range. He brings a dynamic to our team that we don't otherwise have. I'm not saying we'd never consider a trade of Cesar. We've been hit on him before, but he's not a guy that we're actively shopping by any stretch, no matter the market conditions.”
The trade to acquire Segura from Seattle freed up first base for Rhys Hoskins, as Carlos Santana went to the Mariners. Kapler said he was being speculative but said Hoskins’ learning to play left field last season took a “psychological toll.”
“Certainly if you're stressing about one thing, perhaps you're not able to be the best hitter that you could be,” Kapler said.
The same could then be speculated for Kingery, who had played 98 percent of his minor-league innings at second base. His introduction to major-league pitching was also met with an introduction to playing shortstop, third base, and the outfield.
The trade that Kapler called Kingery about made Hoskins “a little more confident” and “maybe he really turns into an elite offensive performer,” Kapler said. Perhaps a similar benefit could have been applied to Kingery if the Phillies were able to move Hernandez. But they are not keen on doing it.
“Every player is a little different,” Klentak said. “I guess the big thing with Scott is he’s so gifted and so athletic that I think with time he could grow to be a plus defender anywhere. We know he’s gifted and above average at second base and that’s where he’s had the most experience in his career, and I also acknowledge fully that the first stretch with him at shortstop last year was rocky.
"But the latter stretch of him playing shortstop was really good. He’s got the arm strength for it. He’s got the hands for it. He developed the clock for it, and he became really steady to the point where as we’ve assessed different potential upgrades, he’s a pretty good option for us there. I suspect if we put him there at third, he’d grow into that as well. I suspect if we gave him time in the outfield, he’d grow into a pretty good outfielder.
"I think there’s a lot of value in Scott Kingery playing multiple positions for us and taking down regular reps and continuing to grow as a major-league player. At some point, he very well may gravitate toward one position for an extended period of time. It happened last year. We didn’t go into last year expecting him to be our starting shortstop for most of the season, but it happened and it made him a better player and it made us a better team.”