Decision time arrives for Phillies on Franco, Hernandez

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A non-tender of Hernandez could prompt the Phillies to move Segura to second and sign Gregorius for shortstop

 

What has become known as the “non-tender” deadline in Major League Baseball will arrive on Monday at 8:00 pm EST. Teams ostensibly have until that point to offer 2020 contracts to arbitration-eligible players.

For two such players who have been starters with the Philadelphia Phillies for the last five seasons – third baseman Maikel Franco and second baseman Cesar Hernandez – it could mark the end of their time with the ball club.

The actual rule as negotiated with the MLBPA (the player’s union) basically states that all arbitration and pre-arbitration eligible players on the 40-man roster with fewer than six years of big-league service time must be offered (tendered) a contract for the upcoming season (2020) by this deadline or they will immediately  become a free agent.

While Franco has appeared in parts of six MLB seasons he has just 4.157 official years of accumulated service time. Hernandez has appeared in parts of seven seasons, but has just 5.154 official service time years.

Should the Phillies choose to tender a contract to either or both, they would be agreeing to settle on a specific salary amount over the next few months. If they choose to non-tender either or both, the player(s) join the list of available free agents this off-season.

By non-tendering either Franco or Hernandez the Phillies would in essence be waving goodbye.

I am sure there would be public pleasantries from general manager Matt Klentak along the lines of “we really like these guys and appreciate what they brought to the ball club over the last few years, but we felt it was best at this time for both the players and the team that we turn the page.

For me, these two players are little more than reminders of a half-dozen years of mostly losing baseball. Signing and trading them is not a legitimate option. What team is going to surrender anything of real value for either guy?

Saying goodbye to either or both  would then create holes in the lineup. However, they are holes that can be filled by more talented and likely more productive players who are either already on the roster or available via free agency.

SECOND BASE

The simplest and best answer to non-tendering Hernandez would be to finally turn over the everyday second base position to Scott Kingery.

I’ve explained ad nauseam in other pieces and podcasts that second base is Kingery’s natural position. It is where he played during the final two years of his college career and his three minor league seasons. In 2017 he was the Gold Glove Award winner for the minor leagues at the position.

Another option would be to slide the current shortstop, Jean Segura, over to second base. This would mean either making Kingery the everyday shortstop or signing a free agent. The Phillies have been linked to free agent Didi Gregorius in this type of scenario.

Though he has been a shortstop for the vast majority of his eight-year big-league career, Segura was the every day second baseman with the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2016. He led the National League with 203 hits that season and finished 13th in NL MVP voting.

Though he can athletically handle the position on a short-term basis or in an emergency, Kingery is not a legitimate everyday shortstop. If the club really wants to move Segura, it would be imperative that they sign someone like Gregorius.

THIRD BASE

Cutting ties with Franco would likely mean that the Phillies have decided to go hard after one of the three top available free agents at the position: Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, or Mike Moustakas.

If they non-tender Franco but keep Hernandez, they could also choose to make Kingery the everyday third baseman. However, just as with shortstop, this is not a legitimate spot for Kingery as a regular starter.

Should the Phillies cut ties with both Franco and Hernandez, it almost certainly means that they plan on using Kingery as a regular at one of the three infield positions.

The Phillies might decide that the third base free agents are simply too expensive, and believe that they have the future at the position here already in top position prospect Alec Bohm. In that scenario, maybe they tender Franco, figuring that Bohm will turn him into 2020 in-season trade bait.

The Phillies could also conceivably sign both Gregorius and a new third base free agent. But that is spending a lot of money which could perhaps be better used in paying for the two starting pitchers they also need.

SHORTSTOP

If you choose to non-tender Hernandez and slide over Segura, it opens a hole here. Again, the hole would be filled by either Kingery (less than ideal) or a free agent such as Gregorius.

For me, the best option is to simply keep Segura at short, make Kingery the everyday second baseman, and go hard after a third baseman in free agency.

CENTER FIELD

Kingery played 65 games and made 57 starts in center field during the 2019 season. By the end of the year it was rookie Adam Haseley out there most often. Haseley appeared in 40 games in center field, making 36 starts.

I’ve gone on record that the Phillies should go after a more proven veteran via the trade route, someone such as Jackie Bradley Jr.of the Boston Red Sox.

This is Kingery’s second-best, though I believe it is a distant second-best, defensive position. He played it during his first two years of college ball. However, a look into the stats reveals that while he occasionally makes a highlight reel play, he also doesn’t make all of the routine plays handled by natural center fielders.

It is possible that the Phillies will choose to tender Hernandez and bring him back for one final season at second base, leaving Kingery out in center field for one more year, with Haseley as a reserve outfielder.

Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors has estimated that Franco would receive $5.7 million and Hernandez $11.8 million on one-year deals with the Phillies for the 2020 season. That $17.5 million could pay the 2020 salary of a strong starting pitcher or one better position player.

This will not be an easy decision for Klentak to make. However, it would be very easy for me. The “KISS” principle is at play here: Keep It Simple Stupid.

These are two limited players for whom there are better options available. Cut the ties. Move on. Look to the future, not at the past.

The Phillies should non-tender both Franco and Hernandez, move Kingery to second, start shopping hard for a third baseman, and start working the phones for a center fielder. One man’s opinion. We’ll find out what the team actually chooses by late Monday.

 

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