LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — No general manager will admit he must make a trade; that creates unwanted public expectations and a slip in leverage with the other 29 clubs in baseball. But those general managers see what Matt Klentak sees: five infielders for three spots, two of which are viewed as potential cornerstones for the next competitive Phillies team and deserving of everyday at-bats.
So, as the Phillies and the rest of baseball convene here at a Disney World hotel for this week’s winter meetings, expect to hear more posturing. For the Phillies, this is a good problem to have. (It is.) Roster flexibility can be beneficial. (It can.) There is no need to consummate a trade just to do it. (There is not.)
The Phillies could wait for the perfect deal — a deal that may not materialize — at the risk of sacrificing whatever value their current infield surplus has. Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, J.P. Crawford, and Maikel Franco could all begin the season on the 25-man roster in a rotation that places one of them on the bench every day. Both Klentak and first-year manager Gabe Kapler are on the record supporting that idea. The players? That would be a tougher sell.
It is one reason why the Phillies have continued to shop Hernandez and Galvis this winter.
As June 1 approaches, the posturing will be harder to justify unless Scott Kingery has floundered in the minors. Kingery’s style will endear him to Philadelphia fans. It could generate a shred of excitement around a team that will need it. Five worthy infielders for three spots is a problematic equation, even for a progressive manager. The Phillies have a stated goal for 2018 to learn more about their young players. That would suggest the players who have a better chance of sticking around — Crawford and Kingery — be prioritized.
That label still applies to Maikel Franco, an enigmatic player who will have every chance in 2018 to regain his place in the team’s future plans. If the Phillies want to use this season to gain more intelligence on players such as Franco, Crawford and Kingery, then it would benefit everyone for them to play on a regular basis.
Team officials will talk this spring in measured words about Kingery, who is all but certain to begin 2018 at triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he spent half of last season. There is an argument that Kingery could break camp if the decision was made solely on talent level. That argument, internally, will not last long.
The Phillies will point to a few bad habits that appeared in his time with the IronPigs — an increased strikeout rate and dip in power numbers. That is fair. Something like six more weeks in triple A will delay his free agency by a season. That is not insignificant, a dynamic permitted by the collective bargaining agreement between management and players.
Five infielders for three spots would mean fewer at-bats for Hernandez and Galvis, two players who could help a team win but may not have spots here. With less playing time, those players would sacrifice potential future earnings and lose value on the summer trade market. It would be difficult for both players to accept lesser roles, a potential headache for Kapler, who will want to minimize drama where possible. The Phillies would have less leverage in trade negotiations than ever, especially given Galvis’ pending free agency after the 2018 season. The return, in all likelihood, would be lower.
Those are overwhelming reasons to make a trade sometime this winter.
This was a more palatable situation with someone like Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies shopped Hellickson, a veteran rental pitcher, at the 2016 trade deadline. They received a few offers. They did not like them. They kept Hellickson, with the hope that he’d decline a $17 million qualifying offer and net them a high draft pick. He did not. But that was fine because the Phillies had money to burn, Hellickson had a right arm capable of eating innings, and the team needed those innings. He was not blocking a touted pitching prospect.
At some point in 2018, Kingery will graduate to the majors. Maybe it is after June 1. But the Phillies will want to test him with more than 600 plate appearances in 2018 because he has tired at the end of the last two seasons. That requires him playing every day, whether it be in the International League or National League.
The Phillies could exert patience. They could wait for an injury to another team’s middle infielder and pounce on the chance to sell Hernandez or Galvis with some leverage. They could keep everyone and look smart later when one of the infielders is hurt and the playing-time formula is easier to solve. They could turn Galvis into a super-utility player, re-sign him, and rely upon him as a clubhouse leader — if Galvis is amenable.
But, until a trade is made or a lineup plan is unveiled, the infielders must wonder where they fit.