Scott Kingery

Phillies have a number of options in filling infield need

Phillies have a number of options in filling infield need

SAN DEIGO — On Day 1 of the winter meetings, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak reiterated his team’s need to add a starting infielder.

“That's been the focus,” Klentak said Monday afternoon. “Today is Day 1, but technically we've been here for almost two full days. It feels like that is what we have mostly been working on since we've been here. We're just trying to explore all different avenues. Single-year and multi-year fits. Trade and free-agent fits. In the way that the pitching market has really come together quickly, this one doesn't seem to be coming together quite as quickly. But not because there aren't options.”

The free-agent pitching market is indeed moving quickly. Stephen Strasburg returned to the Washington Nationals on a staggering seven-year, $245 million deal on Monday and Gerrit Cole is expected to blow past that deal in the coming days. The Phillies made some (sort of) news Monday when their signing of Zack Wheeler became official after the right-hander passed his physical exam.

“We felt it was important to add someone to our rotation that could pair with Aaron Nola at the top and give us a chance to win any series against the best pitchers in baseball,” Klentak said. “I think those are as good a twosome as you'll find in the league.”

New manager Joe Girardi concurred.

“We have 1 and 1-A,” he said.

Now, the question is: Who will play second base, third base and shortstop behind Wheeler and Nola?

Scott Kingery and Jean Segura are likely to hold down two of the spots. We say “likely” because there’s always the chance that Kingery could play center field (right now it looks like Adam Haseley will be the guy there) and Segura could be traded if the Phils could find someone to take on the three years and $45 million that remain on his contract. That won’t be easy, even if the Phils eat some salary.

Ideally, the Phillies would land a shortstop like free-agent Didi Gregorius on a one-year or manageable multi-year deal and move Segura from shortstop to second base and play Kingery at third. The Phillies have had serious talks with Gregorius, but have to be ready to pivot if they can’t lock him up. As Klentak said, there are options in the infield. Most of them, however, are not shortstops. A free-agent second baseman like Jonathan Schoop could be a good fallback if the Phils can’t sign Gregorius. He had 23 doubles and 23 homers in 433 at-bats for the Twins last season. Signing Schoop would mean that Segura would have to stay at shortstop or move to third with Kingery playing shortstop.

There are plenty of options at third base, from veteran Todd Frazier to top-of-the-market superstars Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson. There are also versatile veterans like Starlin Castro and even Brock Holt who could be used in mix-and-match, platoon scenarios.

“There’s a bunch of different ways we can go,” Klentak said. “We can go a shorter-term variety, we can look at a longer-term solution, we can look at the trade market, we can look at the free-agent market and we can look into piecing it together with multiple players potentially, which not only would help the starting infield, but would improve the bench. That’s where a lot of our focus this week is being turned.”

All right, let’s address those top-of-the-market names: The Phils have had contact with the representatives for Rendon and Donaldson and they have not tapped out of those markets, but signing one of those big-money players remains a longshot. The Phils signed Bryce Harper for $330 million last winter, Wheeler for $118 million this winter and still have to budget for a potential $100 million contract extension for J.T. Realmuto. Rendon is expected to command well over $200 million and Donaldson should get more than $25 million per season when he lands. The Phils are creeping up on the luxury-tax threshold of $208 million in total payroll. Managing partner John Middleton would go over the tax for the right opportunity. There’s a lot of never-say-never here, but …

“Ownership has always encouraged us to stay engaged on everything,” Klentak said. “If there's an opportunity to bring something to them we will. I think the most notable example was signing Jake Arrieta two years ago. That was not necessarily on our radar. It came together late and the owners jumped on it. I'm not going to sit here today and declare that we are or are not in on certain players or that we will or will not exceed the tax threshold. Our job is to keep an open mind and continue to pursue all avenues and see what makes sense for us. There is an element of this from a management perspective in making sure we apply the proper balance to roster building and not get too top-heavy. We need to be responsible about it, but we're not going to shy away from pursuing or at least exploring opportunities, whether we bring them to the finish line or not.”

With Wheeler on board, an infielder on the way, the return to good health of some key players and the projected improvement of others, Klentak is confident of this:

“We are definitely building a team that we expect will contend in 2020,” he said.

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A reason for Scott Kingery’s September struggles?

USA Today Images

A reason for Scott Kingery’s September struggles?

Scott Kingery had just 17 hits and struck out 31 times in 89 at-bats this month.

Might this be the reason why?

Kingery left Friday night’s game in the fifth inning because he was experiencing blurry vision.

On Saturday, he said he’d experienced the problem more than once recently.

He will not play Saturday or in the final game of the season Sunday afternoon. He will begin his offseason with an eye examination Monday.

“It’s tough, really tough,” Kingery said. “I mean, with a couple games left it’s obviously not ideal. I think it’s something I want to get taken care of as soon as possible. Try to figure out what the problem is.

“It’s been creeping up. It got to the point where I was like, ‘It’s tough to see.’

“It’s just like blurry. I’m still not sure what it is. That’s why I’m going to go get an exam and hopefully it can just give me an answer.”

Kingery does not wear contact lenses. All major league players receive an eye exam in spring training.

Kingery hit .287 with two homers, 14 RBIs and an .825 OPS in August, but just .191 in September.

He finished his second big-league season at .258 with a .788 OPS in 458 at-bats. He had 34 doubles, 19 homers and 55 RBIs.

Defensively, Kingery continued to be the Phillies’ most versatile player. He had 60 starts in the outfield, 57 in center field, 37 at third base, 12 at shortstop and six at second base. Kingery could begin to hone in on a single position next season, possibly second base. He is a second baseman by trade and it’s possible the Phillies will have an opening there if they trade Cesar Hernandez or simply don’t tender him a contract.

But first things first — Get those eyes working right.

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Self-destructive Phillies suffer embarrassing loss to Indians on national TV

Self-destructive Phillies suffer embarrassing loss to Indians on national TV


CLEVELAND — The Phillies began the final week of their season with an embarrassing 10-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians in a nationally televised game on Sunday night.

A series of self-inflicted wounds hurt the Phillies in the fifth inning and the Indians delivered a knockout blow with six runs in the seventh.

The Indians scored three unearned runs in the fifth inning — all on a home run by Oscar Mercado — to take control of the game.

Mercado’s homer came on an 0-2 pitch from Vince Velasquez with two outs in the inning. The frame began with two Indians reaching base on a pair of Phillies errors, one by Jean Segura, one by Velasquez.

The Phillies made three errors in the game. They have had multi-error games in three of the six games on this trip.

The loss dropped the Phillies to 79-75. They need three wins in their final eight games to have their first winning season since 2011.

The Phillies’ microscopic postseason hopes could be extinguished as soon as Tuesday. Their elimination number is two (see story).

The 92-win Indians are tied with Tampa Bay for the second AL wild-card spot.

A big problem

Phillies pitchers have allowed a club record 244 homers this season. That’s the second most in the NL. The old team record was 221.

Velasquez was one strike away from getting out of the fifth inning. Catcher J.T. Realmuto called for a fastball up in the zone but Velasquez did not get it up high enough and Mercado crushed it into the left-field seats for three runs and a Cleveland lead.

Phillies pitchers have been careless executing 0-2 pitches this season. They have allowed 16 homers in that count, the most in the majors.

Inspiring performance

Cleveland right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who missed part of this season undergoing treatment for leukemia, came on in the top of the fifth and rolled a big double-play ball. He then put up a shutdown inning in the sixth and finished with 2 2/3 scoreless innings.

Carrasco was originally Phillies property. He was dealt to Cleveland in the package for Cliff Lee a decade ago. He led the American League with 18 wins in 2017.

The offense

The Phillies had just five hits. Scott Kingery had a pair of doubles. He entered the game hitting .159 (11 for 70) in September.

And another one

Realmuto threw out another runner trying to steal second base. It was his 38th of the season, most in the majors. He also doubled home the Phillies’ only run to give the club a 1-0 lead in the third inning.

Up next

The Phillies move on to Washington for a five-game series against the Nationals beginning Monday night. Zach Eflin (9-12, 4.00) will pitch the opener against Washington lefty Patrick Corbin (13-7, 3.10).

The teams will play a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday. Neither team has named a starter for the first game. Aaron Nola (12-6, 3.75) is scheduled to face Max Scherzer (10-7, 2.81) in the nightcap.

On Wednesday night, the Phils will send Drew Smyly (4-7, 6.44) to the mound against right-hander Anibal Sanchez (10-8, 3.91).

Lefty Jason Vargas (7-8, 4.40) will pitch Thursday afternoon against right-hander Stephen Strasburg (17-6, 3.37).

The Nationals are bidding to win the NL wild card.

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