CLEARWATER, Fla. — Feel free to debate the details of the contract. Lots of agents are displeased with the six-year deal that Scott Kingery signed with the Phillies on Sunday because they believe by accepting a $24 million safety net he forfeited a chance to make millions more. This just in: Agents do not like to leave money on the table any more than a Rottweiler likes to leave a cut of meat on the floor.
Truth is, we won’t know for quite some time how the financial equation turns out. Right now, who cares? Scott Kingery is happy, set for life and eager to play the game he loves in a manner that made the Phillies fall in love with him. Give the Phillies and general manager Matt Klentak credit for doing something they weren’t even thinking about when spring training opened six weeks ago.
“It wasn’t really on our radar,” Klentak admitted during a Monday morning news conference at Spectrum Field. “Probably roughly halfway through I started to think about it because Scott was playing so well and we could see what kind of impact he had on the team and on his teammates.”
Kingery’s Grapefruit League numbers before the signing — 20 hits in 20 games, a .392 average, .415 on-base percentage and 1.141 OPS — were eye popping, but the Phillies’ decision that they needed the versatile 23-year-old on their team right now went deeper than that.
“He really forced our hand with the way he played,” Klentak said. “Scott Kingery puts us in the best position to win with his presence on our roster.”
Give Kingery credit for making it impossible for the Phillies to feel any other way. In between his hard-to-ignore work at the plate, he was playing almost everywhere in the field, a desired goal for Klentak and first-year manager Gabe Kapler all winter.
“When you have a player with this type of ability, athleticism and willingness to put the team first, that allows us to go in a lot of different directions,” Klentak said. “I don’t know what would have happened if Scott would not have been willing to do the things [manager Gabe Kapler] asked him to do because he was open to it from day one.”
It will be fascinating to see how it all shakes out once the season opens Thursday afternoon in Atlanta, but the one thing the Phillies can be sure of is that Kingery is open to the challenge.
Flash back to spring training in 2004, when the Phillies had another second baseman who looked equally as ready for the major leagues after destroying International League pitchers the year before. The Phillies, however, had given David Bell a generous three-year contract the year before and had a way above average second baseman in Placido Polanco.
Chase Utley, already 25 years old at the time, ended up being the final cut at the end of spring training because the Phillies did not want to keep someone who could only play second base as an extra man. It was a mistake, but the point is Kingery would not allow the Phillies to make that same mistake with him.
Instead, he made them think about the roster in a different way. He took Kapler’s challenge to show his versatility and proved he could play three infield and three outfield positions not just competently but superbly.
“He’s not going to sit,” Klentak promised. “[Kapler] is a hundred percent comfortable with this. Gabe talks about relentless communication with players to make sure everybody understands what is going on. All of our players are going to get a lot of reps. It is unlikely any one player is going to play 162 games. It’s even less likely that a player is going to play 162 games at the same position. That’s not the type of roster we’re building.
“So will the 2018 season be different than prior Phillies seasons? Yes. But we don’t think that makes it wrong. We think we’re adjusting to the style and athleticism of our team and putting the team in the best position to win.”
At some point it seems likely that Kingery will return to second base, the position he played at a major-league, Gold Glove level even while he was in the minors. But given the choice between playing his natural position in the minors and being Mr. Versatility in the majors, it was a no-brainer for Kingery.
“At the moment, I’m willing to play anywhere,” he said. “My main position right now is second base, but I’m just trying to get out there with the team whether that is in the outfield or anywhere in the infield. Eventually that might not be where I end up, but right now I’m ready to play wherever I can.”
And that, of course, is in the major leagues, which is exactly where he belongs.