Phillies

Monday could spell the end for longtime Phillies Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco

Monday could spell the end for longtime Phillies Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco

Monday could mark the end for two longtime members of the Phillies’ infield.

Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco are both candidates to be cut loose before the 8 p.m. deadline to offer 2020 contracts to players who are eligible for salary arbitration.

In all, the Phillies have nine arbitration-eligible players. Hernandez and Franco are probably the only two in jeopardy of not being tendered a contract.  The rest of the group includes pitchers Jose Alvarez, Hector Neris, Adam Morgan, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin and catchers J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Knapp.

The Phillies would like to sign Realmuto to a multi-year contract extension this winter, but the two sides could reach agreement on a one-year deal for 2020 before that happens.

Hernandez, 29, has been in the Phillies organization since he was 16 years old. He signed out of Venezuela in the summer of 2006 and eventually became Chase Utley’s successor at second base during the 2015 season.

Hernandez is projected to make more than $11 million in his final year of arbitration and the Phillies, with both Scott Kingery and Jean Segura capable of playing second, could let him go and use that money to fill needs elsewhere on the roster. It’s still possible that the Phils could trade Hernandez in the final hours before the tender deadline, though that might not be likely as interested teams could gamble that he’d soon become available as a free agent.

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 needs a fresh start in another organization. That could come in a late trade or a non-tender on Monday. Franco is projected to make about $6.5 million in salary arbitration.

It’s not clear what the Phillies will do for a third baseman next season. The club has shown interest in free agent Mike Moustakas. Kingery or Segura could be an option at the position if the Phils were to pursue a shortstop from outside the organization.

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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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