Phillies

Phillies cut ties with Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco

Phillies cut ties with Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco

The Phillies have cut ties with two of their longest tenured players, second baseman Cesar Hernandez and third baseman Maikel Franco. Both became free agents when the team chose not to tender them a 2020 contract by Monday night’s 8 p.m., deadline.
 
Hernandez and Franco were two of nine Phillies eligible for salary arbitration. The team avoided arbitration with backup catcher Andrew Knapp and signed him to a one-year deal worth $710,000. The team’s six remaining arbitration-eligible players were all tendered contracts for 2020 and are now considered signed players. The group includes pitchers Hector Neris, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez and catcher J.T. Realmuto. These players can agree to terms for a 2020 contract at any time. If the two sides don’t reach agreement by January 10, they will exchange salary figures and an arbitration panel will determine the player’s salary at a hearing in February. Most cases are settled before a hearing.
 
It had long been speculated that Hernandez and Franco would be non-tendered and eventually hit the free-agent market. That hurt the Phillies’ chances of trading them. There should be a market for both players as free agents.
 
Hernandez had been projected to make more than $11 million in his final year of arbitration and Franco more than $6.5 million in his second year of arbitration. The Phils will use that savings to fill holes, particularly on the pitching staff.
 
For both players, this is an end of an era.
 
Hernandez, 29, has been in the Phillies organization since he was 16. He signed out of Venezuela in the summer of 2006 and eventually became Chase Utley’s successor at second base during the 2015 season.
 
Franco, 27, originally signed with the Phillies in 2010. He became the team’s regular third baseman in 2015 and had three 20-plus-homer seasons before losing his starting job last season and being demoted to Triple A. Phillies officials pondered releasing Franco in September and it has been clear for a while that he’d benefit from a fresh start in another organization. 
 
It remains to be seen how the Phillies will fill the holes at second and third base that have been created by the departures of Hernandez and Franco.
 
Scott Kingery has long been considered the Phillies’ second baseman of the future and that future could start on opening day 2020. However, it’s also possible that Kingery could play shortstop, third base or center field, depending on acquisitions the Phillies make in the coming weeks and months. The team could to sign a shortstop such as free-agent Didi Gregorius. It could also look to sign a free-agent third baseman such as Josh Donaldson or Anthony Rendon. The Phillies had interest in Mike Moustakas, but he came off the board on Monday when he signed a four-year, $64 million deal with Cincinnati. Future additions will determine where Jean Segura plays in 2020. He was the team’s shortstop last season but could move to second or even play third.
 
Some answers could begin to emerge as the offseason shifts into high gear with the arrival of the winter meetings next week.

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At the Yard podcast: Where will Didi Gregorius bat? Are Phillies done?

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At the Yard podcast: Where will Didi Gregorius bat? Are Phillies done?

Where will Didi Gregorius hit in the Phillies' order? How will the infield defense be aligned? Are the Phillies done? Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman discuss on Wednesday's At the Yard podcast.

• Surprised it was a 1-year deal?

• Why a 1-year deal carries so much value for the Phillies.

• Will Kingery play 2B or 3B?

• Could Segura be dealt?

• Where might Didi bat in the order?

• An interesting Phillies-Yankees trade idea from Jim.

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Phillies obviously better with Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler and Joe Girardi, but was this enough?

Phillies obviously better with Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler and Joe Girardi, but was this enough?

Didi Gregorius is a fun addition for the Phillies. His personality and the joy he plays with will quickly make him a fan favorite. He'll improve the clubhouse dynamic and he'll improve the Phillies' infield defense and lineup.

At one year, what's not to like? It's a one-year, $14 million contract for Gregorius, according to Jim Salisbury, which gives the Phillies an entire year to figure out their infield. Where does Jean Segura fit? What about Scott Kingery? When will Alec Bohm be ready? Can Rhys Hoskins, the most important hitter of them all, turn it around in 2020?

By tying themselves to Didi for only one year, the Phillies can pivot quickly if this does not work out, or if a second base/third base combo of Jean Segura and Scott Kingery does not provide enough offense. Bohm is the other major factor in all of this — if his defense can hold at third base for even a few years during the early part of his career, and if his power and control of the strike zone can translate to the majors, he could be the run-producing five-hole hitter this Phillies team needs.

Before Bohm arrives, though, the question is whether the Phillies' eight projected everyday players represent a contending lineup. It will likely shake out like this. Focus more on the names than the batting order because of how many variations there could be:

1. Andrew McCutchen, LF (R)
2. Didi Gregorius, SS (L)
3. J.T. Realmuto, C (R)
4. Bryce Harper, RF (L)
5. Rhys Hoskins, 1B (R)
6. Jean Segura, 2B (R)
7. Scott Kingery, 3B (R)
8. Adam Haseley, CF (L)

Given the current composition of the rest of the Phillies' roster, this looks like a mid-80s-win team at first glance. A team that projects for 85 to 87 wins with a chance to crack 90 if many things break right. 

If Hoskins rebounds. 

If Kingery becomes a valuable everyday offensive contributor. 

If McCutchen has a full season as productive as his pre-injury work in 2019. 

If the Aaron Nola-Zack Wheeler duo combines for 400 innings with an ERA in the low 3.00s.

If Bohm and Spencer Howard force the Phillies' hand by playing well.

If we see second-half Realmuto and Harper in 2020.

If Jake Arrieta can be more of a No. 3 than a No. 5.

If the Phillies find and settle on a reliable 8th inning-9th inning combination.

The Phillies are unquestionably better now than they were at the end of the 2019 season. Gregorius is a better and more impactful than the player he's basically replacing, Cesar Hernandez. Wheeler is the No. 2 starter the Phillies desperately needed. New manager Joe Girardi may be able to add a win or two here and there with good decision-making.

They are better. The question is how much better. Good enough to push the Nationals and Braves for the division? That would seem an optimistic viewpoint of this Phillies roster, but they can still tinker with their core throughout the offseason by adding another starting pitcher like Wade Miley, a high-upside reliever like Dellin Betances and another good hitter for the bench.

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