The Phillies mixed up their contracts this offseason. They gave Michael Saunders the contract with the option on it, not Daniel Nava. The reasoning behind that option was clear when it was announced: When they trade him, he’d be more than a rental and that will add value. As it stands, no one would want him for this year, let alone next.
Meanwhile, they gave Nava an invitation to spring training. Nava proceeded to scratch and claw his way through the spring, hitting at every opportunity. Despite having an OPS of .908 for the spring, it came down to the wire and he was a last-minute addition to the Phillies 25-man roster.
For their careers, Saunders is a .232/.305/.398 hitter in his nine years and 2,722 plate appearances, while Nava is a .264/.357/.380 hitter in seven years and 1,858 plate appearances. Saunders, with the extra two years, has accumulated 5.7 WAR to Nava’s 7.9. It’s curious why there was such a disparity in the acquisitions. Perhaps there was a bit of recency bias with Saunders having a successful 2016 season, although you’d expect someone at MLB general manager level to see past that.
For Nava’s part, he’s continued to do nothing but hit.
He hasn’t gotten a ton of opportunity though because, hey, they had this other guy they’re paying $8.5 million. When he was called on however, he made the most of it. Nava currently has a .321/.432/.487 slash line.
It took an injury to an infielder that forced them to move Howie Kendrick to second to get Nava regular at bats. This is troublesome because the reality is that Nava has earned the playing time he’s getting, but the only reason he’s getting it is because of that injury.
Nava has six hits in his last three games including a home run and a double. Saunders has five in his last 14 with one double.
As the season progresses and time moves ever closer to that July trade deadline, it becomes more and more apparent that the plan has gone awry, that Saunders has no value. But a new plan should be emerging for the Phillies: Play Nava every day and attempt to extort some value out of him by the deadline. What they’ll do with Saunders remains to be seen. What can they do?
Veering from the plan hasn’t proved to be Klentak’s strong suit in his early tenure as general manager. It wasn’t in the plan to add any star talent to this team this offseason, despite showing some promise last year, and they stuck to that. They wanted to be young and they are. Like the Saunders acquisition, though, that plan may not be working in their favor either.
You hope Klentak can smell this opportunity though – a chance to perhaps extract value from an unforeseen source, a window to make something from nothing. Play Nava more, showcase his value, cash in on it.
Just like they were hoping to do with Saunders, only this time with a player who’s earning it.