Phillies free-agent target: Didi Gregorius

Phillies free-agent target: Didi Gregorius

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Our Phillies free-agent targets series continues today with Didi Gregorius, who has been connected to the Phils in recent days.

The vitals

Gregorius is a solid defensive shortstop who can hit for power and for average. From 2016-18 with the Yankees, he averaged 24 homers per season and hit .277 with an OPS eight percent above the league average. 

He did benefit from the short porch at Yankee Stadium, but that short porch can work both ways, also playing tricks on homer-happy hitters. It stands to reason that in another park, Gregorius' batting average and doubles would increase while the homer total would decrease slightly.

Gregorius will play the 2020 season at age 30. He underwent Tommy John surgery in October 2018 and missed half the season in 2019. He hit just .207 with a .250 on-base percentage after Aug. 1, but he did go 4 for 10 with a homer and six RBI in the ALDS win over the Twins.

Why he fits

The Phillies need a better defensive shortstop with more range. Jean Segura committed 20 errors last season, but beyond that, his waistline grew throughout the summer and it wasn't a defensive season that could have inspired much confidence from the Phillies as he ages.

Gregorius is the best shortstop on the market. He could push Segura over to second base, thereby creating an everyday spot for Scott Kingery at either third base or center field. For all the hand-wringing the last two years at the Phillies' use of Kingery all over the diamond, Kingery's flexibility has created flexibility for the Phillies, who are not boxed in to upgrading a specific position.

Signing Gregorius could also make Segura a trade candidate, but how much value would the Phillies get for him? Segura has approximately $43 million remaining over the final three years of his contract and is coming off his worst season in five years. In this scenario, it probably would make more sense for the Phillies to hold on to Segura in hopes that he rebounds to hit over .300 as he did each season from 2016-18.

Gregorius' left-handed bat would help balance out a Phillies lineup that has Bryce Harper but no other lefty power threat currently projected to start.

Why he doesn't fit

Do the Phillies really need to sign a shortstop? Even if they're skeptical Segura can handle the position moving forward, they could simply move Kingery to shortstop and find another starter to play third base or center field. 

Josh Donaldson, for example, is a better hitter than Gregorius. Offensively, the Phillies would probably be better off (at least in 2020) with Donaldson at third and Kingery at short than with Gregorius at short and Kingery at third.

Mike Moustakas? The Moustakas vs. Didi comparison is pretty close, with Moustakas providing more power and less of an injury history and Didi holding the advantage in speed and athleticism. 

There aren't many worthwhile free-agent options in center field, the Phillies' other position of need. Thus, you'd figure the position player upgrade will come at either third base or shortstop.

Scout's take

"He's a leader on and off the field and a quality player offensively and defensively. He looked more and more healthy as the season went on and his arm was almost back to full strength."

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Phillies look to Red Sox for their new athletic trainer Paul Buchheit

Phillies look to Red Sox for their new athletic trainer Paul Buchheit

SAN DIEGO — Nothing official from the Phillies yet, but the team has apparently hired a new head athletic trainer.

According to multiple baseball sources, the Phils have hired Paul Buchheit for the position. Buchheit was most recently an assistant athletic trainer on the staff of the Boston Red Sox.

Buchheit replaces Scott Sheridan, who became the Phillies’ head athletic trainer in October 2006. Sheridan’s contract was not renewed after last season. General manager Matt Klentak declined to talk about specific reasons for the change last month.

Sheridan served on the National League’s athletic training staff for the All-Star Game in July. He was instrumental in helping Chase Utley continue his career after the second baseman developed serious knee issues earlier this decade (see story).

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Phillies officials head to winter meetings looking for an infield bat

Phillies officials head to winter meetings looking for an infield bat

SAN DIEGO — Baseball’s winter meetings are back in this seaside Southern California city for the first time in five years.

The San Diego meetings of 2014 were watershed times for the Phillies as the club traded its iconic shortstop and all-time hits leader, Jimmy Rollins, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

The deal brought the Phillies a pair of young pitchers, including Zach Eflin, and signaled the start of a rebuild as club officials conceded that the window of contention that had brought the Phillies five NL East titles and a World Series championship from 2007-2011 had officially closed.

Now, Phillies officials find themselves back in San Diego at another important time in franchise history. The rebuild ended when the team started lavishing big money on Jake Arrieta, Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and giving up valuable prospects for J.T. Realmuto. Still missing, however, is a winning season. The Phils have not had one of those since 2011, the last year they made the playoffs. Ownership attached huge importance to the coming 2020 season when it pushed to have Gabe Kapler removed as manager after just two seasons in October and general manager Matt Klentak doubled down when he announced proven winner Joe Girardi as the new skipper and punctuated the announcement by saying, “No questions asked, it’s time to win right now.”

The urgency to win now showed last week when the club spent $118 million to sign starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. The hard-throwing right-hander has dealt with injury and inconsistency in his career, but his huge potential, coupled with the team’s acute need for pitching, made this a risk the Phils had to take. The Wheeler signing is expected to be announced as official as soon as Monday at the winter meetings.

So, what else will the team look to accomplish this week in San Diego?

Well, with Wheeler in the fold, the Phils have now prioritized adding an infield bat. That became imperative when the club cut ties with second baseman Cesar Hernandez and third baseman Maikel Franco last week.

The Phils’ ideal scenario would be to acquire a shortstop such as free agent Didi Gregorius. In that case, Jean Segura, whose dwindling range was a concern at shortstop last season, could move to second base and Scott Kingery could play third base. There could also be a scenario where Segura played third and Kingery second. The Phils had probed the market for third basemen and, according to sources, had seriously pursued Mike Moustakas before he signed with Cincinnati. The Phils are still monitoring the markets for free-agent third basemen Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon, but don’t get too excited because they appear to be more interested bystanders than active pursuers. Signing a shortstop like Gregorius, who just so happens to be a favorite of Girardi, would keep third base in play for the eventual arrival of prospect Alec Bohm, who will start the 2020 season in Triple A. Some rival evaluators do not believe that Bohm can survive defensively at third base in the majors — they see him as more of a first baseman — but Phillies officials remain convinced that he can do it. Time will tell.

There is competition for Gregorius. If the Phillies don't sign him, they look at Starlin Castro, Todd Frazier or Brock Holt as short-term fits at third base or other infield spots.

Even with Wheeler on board, the Phillies will continue to look for more pitching, though any further additions will probably come from the third and fourth tiers of the market. The Phils are speeding toward the $208 million luxury tax threshold and Wheeler, by all indications, will be their top wintertime expenditure. By most payroll estimates, the Phils are about $19 million under the tax, and that’s before adding an infielder, bullpen help and some rotation depth behind Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Arrieta and Eflin. Managing partner John Middleton is on record as saying he would not go over the tax for a marginal upgrade but would be open to it if the team was “fighting for a World Series,” and the upgrades were difference-makers like “Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.”

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