When general manager Matt Klentak signed first baseman Carlos Santana to a lucrative free-agent contract this past offseason, it created a worrisome domino effect in the minds of some. Rhys Hoskins, a natural first baseman, would shift to left field. With Odubel Herrera entrenched in center field, it would leave Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams to compete for time in right field. Essentially, the concern was that the Phillies had four starting outfielders and only three positions to play them at.
Instead, neither Altherr or Williams has seized the starting right fielder job. Altherr, 27 and finally healthy, was given the right of first refusal in right field by rookie manager Gabe Kapler. Instead of seizing the job, Altherr has turned in a .174/.290/.311 slash line with a -10.0 offensive WAR. It’s turned into a lost season for Altherr. The season hasn’t been entirely wasted by Williams, who has emerged as one of the league’s best pinch-hitters – in 26 pinch-hit at-bats, Williams is hitting .423 with three home runs and eight RBIs. However, as a starter the 24-year-old is slashing .205/.288/.357 with 52 strikeouts in 171 at-bats.
Rather than having the issue of having two starting-caliber right fielders, the Phillies haven’t had one in 2018. So as they prepare to be buyers at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline for the first time in seven years, right field is a spot the Phillies figure to at least inquire on.
One name that could make some sense: Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Curtis Granderson. The 37-year-old has a wealth of playoff experience, having appeared in the World Series with both the Detroit Tigers and New York Mets. Though he was ultimately left off the World Series roster a season ago, he was employed by the Los Angeles Dodgers during their seven-game World Series with the Houston Astros as well. On one of the sport’s youngest rosters, the three-time All-Star would join the aforementioned Santana and Jake Arrieta as veterans with extensive experience playing October baseball.
Beyond the postseason experience, Granderson is still producing offensively. In 197 at-bats for the Blue Jays in 2018, Granderson is slashing .254/.364/.467 with nine home runs, 27 RBIs and a 4.6 offensive WAR. He would be a clear upgrade over what the Phillies are getting from either Williams or Altherr currently.
What would happen to Williams and Altherr in this scenario? It would depend on just how many upgrades the Phillies make in July. There’s room for Granderson, Williams and Altherr on the roster currently – it would just involve optioning Dylan Cozens. However, J.P. Crawford is going to come off of the disabled list at some point after the All-Star Break and the Phillies could look to upgrade at third base as well. Then again, Klentak could also move Maikel Franco – the San Diego Padres had a scout at Tuesday night’s game – which would open up a roster spot. So what would happen to Williams and Altherr if the Phillies acquired another outfielder remains to be seen. For reference, Williams has two options left and Altherr has one.
In a perfect world, it would be Altherr, not Williams, who was performing well as a pinch-hitter. Then if the Phillies traded for Granderson, it would give them a left-handed hitter and right-handed hitter capable of playing right field. Williams also has more options left, so him being optioned would be more convenient. But given how disappointing Altherr’s 2018 season has been, it would likely be him that would be optioned over Williams, who at least has had success coming off the bench.
The one other appealing part about Granderson is that he’s a rental. If there’s a spot where it makes sense for the Phillies to only make an upgrade for the rest of the season, it’s right field. Altherr and Williams may very well still be in the picture in 2019. Depending on how things shake out in the infield, Scott Kingery could be competing for at-bats in right field next year. Bryce Harper is a free-agent this offseason. You get the point, the Phillies would be best to have flexibility in right field beyond this season.
But the Phillies are just two-and-a-half games back of the Atlanta Braves for the National League East lead with the Washington Nationals quickly fading. The Phillies currently control the second Wild Card spot in the National League. They will play just two teams with winning records in July. So it makes sense to make a short-term upgrade in right field, and Granderson could fit the bill.