It’s maddening for you, I’m sure. You prepare yourself for an afternoon or evening of Phillies baseball, acquiring the necessary beef provisions and canned hops, and tap your finger on the bird that delivers the world for the night’s lineup. The horror. The meat falls to the grass. The beer spills on your tennis shoes. You scream at the wind because, once again, Gabe Kapler has ruined your expectations.
Oh, what blind fool steers this hellbent ship into the thunderclouds? Why can’t he see the ball ricocheting off the shoe, or the pop fly lost in the sunshine, or the dart that splits wide right and pierces the eye of an innocent bystander? How in blazes can this insanity reign, a world in which Scott Kingery, man of nine years and God knows how much money, is still motherfreaking starting at short motherfreaking stop? Can they fire Kapler already? Can the team forfeit 2018 now? Can we just get on with the Ozzie Albies Postseason Party and hope the Eagles pull another wild season out of their tight ends?
I know it’s maddening for you, but I’m doubling down on what you might think is now a scorching hot take: The Phillies should continue playing Kingery at shortstop and J.P. Crawford at third base.
We’ve heard of this “Value At the Margins” talk (VAN, for short), and it’s a little Ted Talky, just as Kapler’s entire bronzed Mr. Game Show demeanor is a little Ted Talky. But I’m past wondering if Kapler is a card because he’s definitely the real McCoy. The guy can’t not be positive. He can’t not continue doing things he believes are right, even in the face of a fanbase living in an often backwards paradise where Men Should Be Men and Dirt Should Be Natural, or something. And Kapler believes giving Kingery opportunities to play shortstop at the major league level, even while confronting constant failure, is the right thing to do, just as he believes letting Crawford hang at third base (where he is good), is also right. He is doing this because it is adding VAN, maybe not now, but probably in the future. And for that I agree with him.
I think the Phils should basically play Kingery every day at shortstop. I think they should basically play Crawford every day at third base. I say basically because there should be days where other guys play, but I do think the value of Maikel Franco is probably zero, and it likely isn’t changing any time this year, so go ahead and play Kingery as much as possible at short, and go ahead and play Crawford as much as possible at third.
Yes, they will make errors, and especially Kingery, who is only carrying a positive zone rating when he’s in the outfield. But the Phillies have developed Kingery and feel he’s the kind of player who can play at least on an average level at multiple positions, even though he’s played almost exclusively at second base in the minor leagues. Organization scouts and development experts tend to know more than we fans, who only typically watch regular season baseball when the team is going well. That isn’t a lot. I believe Kingery can be a utility belt who can play well at multiple positions, and though it’s not happening now, with more experience it can happen soon.
Soon is the important thing here. I know fans want a playoff team. And I know watching the Braves play really well (also over their heads) and the Yankees play really well has to be annoying. But guess what? It happens. No two development curves are the same. The Phils aren’t a playoff team this year, and they weren’t going to be one at any point. They will perform highly at times. They will perform poorly at times. They’re about a .500 team, so now is the time to develop at the major league level. Now is the time to make sure they can maximize whatever they can out of these young players.
Consider Manny Machado. If he comes to Philadelphia, whether this year or next, he might want to play shortstop. What then? The Phils will probably hope Crawford or even Kingery can slide into third and stick there. That transition is easier if they’re already getting those reps in 2018. Or what if Machado doesn’t come? Then shortstop is open and the Phils could go with Kingery there. Or Crawford. Or whomever. But at least they’ll have options, and in 2018, building options (you may call it optionality) is crucial. Teams don’t want to box themselves into positions where they have to get one guy for one position. That’s when you sign Raul Ibanez for three years and only get one good season out of him.
I know it’s maddening to want good now. I know it’s maddening to see errors and bad innings and Jake Arrieta get all pissy (calm down, Jake Arrieta). But this is a young team trying to build and develop in a way most teams wouldn’t try. I believe in this way. I hope it works. If it does, we won’t care about any of this right now.
So grill that steak. Drink that beer. Watch some sometimes bad baseball. It’ll be fine.
And trust me, in two years when this team is much more like a machine that can plug players into any situation, you’ll be thankful this all happened.