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Phillies Plans for 2021’s Up-the-middle Alignment

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Time is the enemy of impatient Philadelphia Phillies fans because the free-agent market is only now percolating, but they will magnify each piece acquired by another franchise as a defeat. However, the game isn’t over in the fifth inning if you’re behind by a run or two.

 

Inside Out:

As the Phillies faithful know, today’s baseball usually doesn’t honor glove-only regulars. Now, even middle infielders can hit .280 with 20 home runs, but the player who only makes highlighted gems with the leather usually doesn’t play daily. Offense also counts.    

IN OTHER WORDS:

“I think the important point is the turning point in combining offense and defense in a reasonable way.” - Fred Ikle

It wasn’t so long ago the defense was up the middle, and the offense was on the corners. Basically, catchers, middle infielders and center fielders combined with pitching to keep runs off the scoreboard. And power and run production were on the shoulders of the first baseman, third sacker, the right fielder and left fielder.                              

In today’s game, up-the-middle defenders can bat in RBI slots, which are now the two and four holes. And even big men have provided excellent glovework in a demanding position like shortstop. So, only clubs with many offensive weapons can carry a leather-only regular.  

While many supporters of major league organizations immediately want a resolution for most free agents, the chasm between management and players is now narrowing. Basically, the gap is due to 2021’s monetary uncertainty, the pandemic and vaccinations.   

Many owners aren’t making large financial commitments, but one exception is Steve Cohen, owner of the New York Mets, who wasn’t the proprietor during 2020’s monetary shortfalls. Realistically, the majority suffered $100-150 million losses and are cautiously limiting their bids, while they play a waiting game.                             

On the opposite negotiating side, stars have normal offseason asking prices. Unfortunately, this winter is a no-man’s-land, and players may reevaluate their financial situation as spring training draws near. Like musical chairs, though, no one wants to be without a spot when the tune stops.  

For the Fightins, the corners are Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Rhys Hoskins and Alec Bohm. Plus management has no reason to replace or trade them because they’ll produce average to strong numbers. Even defensively, they are adequate or better.                   

The Phillies efforts are up the middle behind the plate with JT Realmuto and in center field with Jackie Bradley Jr. or at short with Didi Gregorius if his cost and contract length become more attractive. And if he re-ups, Jean Segura would handle the keystone, and Scott Kingery would man center field.                

Owed $29.5 million for two campaigns, Segura will be a regular, and the red pinstripes won’t move him and eat a big chunk of his pact. Therefore, he’ll be the shortstop if Bradley signs here and the second baseman if Gregorius re-ups. For now, Segura is contributing with his bat and glove.              

Kingery had battled COVID-19 before the truncated season and had aftereffects during his one active month. But keep in mind, a player makes an impact in or after his third year, and he finished his second campaign with a .258 mark and 19 bombs. So, don’t expect the Phils to deal him and the $19 million left through 2023.  

While Kingery is figuratively drawing the locals’ short straw tradewise, Adam Haseley has fans who want him to be the starting center fielder. But daily playing time in 2022 will be available in left field with Cutch’s departure. And as a left-side bat, Haseley could fit in the Phillies tomorrow going forward.        

Roman Quinn has speed and defense plus was healthy during the abbreviated season, but staying on the diamond for a full 162 could ultimately be his downfall. Unfortunately, it’s also the reason the front office writes his future in pencil. But he only hit .213 for both 2019 and 2020 despite being a switch hitter.   

Even though McCutchen’s still a productive leadoff man who can hit 25 homers and  .250, the club will frequently rest his defensive wheels. But the red pinstripes won’t be swallowing most of his $23 million (including a $3 million buyout for ‘22), and Haseley will play during most of Cutch’s downtime.   

Because most teams want to quickly resolve their catching during the offseason, Realmuto’s holding out benefits the Phils, and it’s why they patiently watch as his market shrinks. In fact, he may receive a lower offer than he did a year ago before the coronavirus had disrupted everything. Yes, prices go down too.                      

2021-22 Free Agents (ages listed for 2022 season):

SHORTSTOP

SHORTSTOP

SHORTSTOP

Carlos Correa, 27

Francisco Lindor, 28

Javier Baez, 29

Corey Seager, 28

Trevor Story, 29

 

While the Chicago Cubs are going in a rebuilding direction, the Phillies have a new challenger for Bradley: the Mets after their blockbuster swap. So, Bradley’s projected $16 million for two summers may not drop despite the current dollar-conscious climate. But Francisco Lindor is and will be expensive.                        

The shortstop market for 2022 could impact this winter’s class and be a reason to limit commitments in millions and length. Translation: Franchises may not want to sign Gregorius, 31, for three campaigns when younger candidates could be available in another year, and finances might have cost certainty.  

Since the Fightins haven’t indicated any long-term strategy at short, re-signing Gregorius for a season or two between $10-13 million per 162 could be a better-outcome possibility that may interest them. So, what does January have in store for the faithful with acquisitions and surprises? Three nail-biting weeks! 

 

NEXT:

Fixing 2021’s Bullpen with Dispatch

 

Rsz_1rsz_2haseley

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