This contention holds water only if you believe defense matters. It carries weight only if you accept that the best baseball teams get built up the middle: catcher-shortstop-centerfielder.
It makes sense only if you believe an elite shortstop is a rare and precious commodity. Finally, you must agree that Freddy Galvis has become elite.
Then, and only then, can you agree:
Freddy Galvis must remain at shortstop.
That would most likely mean moving the Phillies’ top prospect, J.P. Crawford, from shortstop to third base. That would most likely mean moving the Phillies’ most potent hitter, Maikel Franco, from third base to …
“First base.” Larry Bowa finishes the sentence, and smiles. “I know what your thought process is.”
The common prognostication assumes that, once Crawford is promoted, Galvis would move from shortstop to second base, supplanting flawed speedster Cesar Hernandez. But moving an elite shortstop to second base to accommodate an unknown quantity at the position seems like madness … as long as Galvis can be considered the sort of defensive gem too precious to disturb.
“He is a gem right now. He’s a gem,” Bowa said. “He’s playing shortstop as good as anybody in the National League.”
The decision to play the shell game with the franchise’s young talent depends on how much you value polished, outstanding defense at the most demanding position on the field. After all, Galvis’ .233 batting average with modest power might have been acceptable in the 1980s, but it does not fit the mold of the modern shortstop.
Bowa, however, values defense beyond measure, and Bowa is on board with the plan … but Bowa’s voice is a small one.
“Those are questions I don’t have to answer,” he said.
As Bowa noted, his opinion as Phillies bench coach carries little weight in a hierarchy that begins with president Andy MacPhail, continues with general manager Matt Klentak, then gets to manager Pete Mackanin. Still, Bowa is back in Philadelphia for a third tour partly because the club values his ability to instruct and nurture Galvis, Franco, Hernandez and, eventually, Crawford.
The 16th overall pick in 2013, Crawford, 21, spent the first 36 games of 2016 at Double A Reading, and hit .253 with three home runs and 28 RBI in his first 76 games at Triple A Lehigh Valley. He carries only 180 pounds on a 6-2 frame. He could fill out to 200 pounds, maybe more, and develop into a 20-homer guy.
Franco, who turns 24 Friday, is 6-1, 215, and has 30-homer potential. They would balance the corners nicely for years to come.
All of these moves might delay the Phillies’ current reconstruction project by a season or so. Crawford and Franco would have to grow into their new positions, and all growth is painful. Then again, changing things around might accelerate the plan, since it takes at least a couple of years for young infielders to reach their potential.
Galvis, 26, has made only six errors this season, and leads National League shortstops with a .988 fielding percentage, as of Thursday morning.
There is the possibility that Crawford could become a better shortstop than Galvis, though the latter’s .974 fielding percentage as a minor league shortstop was significantly better than Crawford’s .955.
“I have seen Crawford. I think Crawford’s going to be a very good player,” Bowa said. “But, right now, the way (Galvis) is playing? He can make people make some decisions.”
There is the chance that converting to third base might stunt Crawford’s development, or even derail it. If that’s the case, then you would have to question Crawford’s capacity to make it in the majors, period. After all, he would be switching to a less demanding position, one that might add years to his career. The same goes for Franco, a scintillating fielder who is becoming more consistent but whose unorthodox style sometimes makes his coaches cringe.
There also is the possibility that Hernandez will continue to develop into as a leadoff hitter and second baseman. He has been in the majors since 2013, but was forced to play centerfield to accommodate the last days of Chase Utley. Hernandez has played only 223 games at second base. Since taking over as the full-time second baseman in the middle of last season Hernandez, 26, has hit .283 with a .347 on-base percentage.
A little shuffling here and there and, this time next season, the Phillies could have four low-cost infielders with an average age of 25. That’s a pretty solid foundation for a rebuild.
“The plan that you outlined — there’s merit to everything you say,” Bowa said. “At least you have moving parts now. But there’s one thing you know for sure: Freddy Galvis is a big-league shortstop.”
Value that as you will.