CINCINNATI — By acquiring veteran Asdrubal Cabrera from the New York Mets in exchange for pitching prospect Franklyn Kilome on Friday, the Phillies believe they crossed off the biggest item on their trade-deadline wish list.
“I think he answers our most pressing need, which was more offense in the infield,” general manager Matt Klentak said shortly after consummating the deal.
Klentak said he expects Cabrera to join the Phillies in time for Saturday night’s game in Cincinnati.
Now, the question becomes: Where will the 32-year-old switch-hitter play? He has been the Mets' regular second baseman this season. He has been a regular at shortstop in previous seasons. He can also play third base.
The first-place Phillies are quite happy with their starting second baseman, Cesar Hernandez, and third baseman Maikel Franco has been on such a tear for more than a month that he has played himself off the trading block.
The obvious place for Cabrera to play would be shortstop, where rookie Scott Kingery has just a .619 OPS. Playing Cabrera at shortstop would allow the Phillies to use Kingery in the super-utility role that he seemed headed for back in spring training.
“I don’t necessarily agree that Kingery will be the one that takes the brunt of this,” Klentak said. “I think we really like the way that Scott has continued to develop as a defender at shortstop and we like the way that he’s been swinging the bat lately and obviously we think very highly of the player.
"So I think Scott Kingery will continue to play fairly regularly and Asdrubal will work in at a few different spots and we will make sure that all of these guys get reps and ultimately that we are running out the most competitive lineup on a daily basis.
“Asdrubal has a track record of proven success in the batter’s box. He’s a switch-hitter, which means every time he is in the batter’s box we will have the platoon advantage. And as important as anything, he covers us at three defensive positions, and as we were looking to bolster our roster for a pennant race, the idea of finding a player that could provide us with that flexibility was really important.
“I would expect that we’ll see him at times at second, short and third. When he’s not playing, I think he’ll be a very dangerous bat off the bench. He’s an excellent roster fit for this current group of Phillies and notably, I think, his positional flexibility puts us in a position where we can continue to let our young players play. This acquisition doesn’t relegate any of our young players to a full-time bench role and I think that is important, too.”
Klentak praised manager Gabe Kapler’s ability to get everyone playing time and put players in positions to succeed. When push comes to shove, look for Kapler to find a way to get Cabrera in the lineup more often than not. He was hitting .277 with 18 homers, 58 RBIs and an .817 OPS in 98 games with the Mets this season.
The Phillies had set their sights high in their quest to add a bat to their infield, but were not able to land Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles. The Phils also considered Minnesota’s Eduardo Escobar, who was dealt to Arizona. Cabrera is a two-time All-Star, who sports a .270 career batting average and .756 OPS in 12 big-league seasons.
So what’s next for the Phillies? Will they make another deal before Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline?
Sources say they are still interested in Baltimore outfielder Adam Jones and the Dallas Morning News reports that the Phils have shown interest in power-hitting outfielder Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers. Both would likely come as complementary players in the outfield if a deal were to happen.
“I think this was our most pressing need, so it was important that we got this one done,” Klentak said of the Cabrera deal. “Obviously, we still have a few days until the deadline and we're going to continue making phone calls and looking for any possible way that we can upgrade this club. We will continue to balance the present versus the future with every move we contemplate and we'll see where those phone calls take us. I wouldn't rule out another move, but I wouldn't predict one either.”
Six weeks ago, the Phillies were looking for upgrades at third base and in the bullpen. But Franco has become a difference-maker at the plate and the bullpen has been the best in baseball in July. That’s not to say the Phillies wouldn’t add a reliever if it was a fit. It just might not be as pressing.