Each weekend, Phillies Nation Editorial Director Tim Kelly will answer reader questions as part of the Phillies Nation Mailbag. Questions can be submitted by tweeting at @PhilliesNation, @TimKellySports or e-mailing your question to tsk@TimKellyMedia.com. Let’s get to this week’s question.
What do the Phillies plan to do with Cesar Hernandez at the conclusion of the 2018 season? – Marcus in Conshohocken
Marcus, this is a great question that doesn’t have a simple answer. There seem to be some that think it’s a lock that the Phillies will trade Hernandez this offseason, though from here that’s far from a lock. There are a lot of moving parts out of Hernandez’s control that will help decide his future.
First and foremost, much of this Phillies offseason will be contingent on how the Phillies act in free-agency. It’s long been believed that the top target of Matt Klentak’s front-office this offseason will be Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado. Though Machado was a Gold Glove caliber third baseman, he shifted back to his natural position of shortstop in 2018, where he’s graded out as one of the sport’s worst fielders. When Machado was in Philadelphia in early July, he made clear that he plans to sign what will likely be a historic free-agent contract as a shortstop. Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reported earlier this season that the Phillies covet Machado so much that they would be willing to have him play shortstop, even if all evidence suggests that he’s more geared to play at the hot corner.
However, while the Phillies may be willing to guarantee Machado that he can play shortstop and appear likely to place the highest offer on his table this winter, it’s far from a lock that Machado will be wearing red pinstripes in 2019. Though the Dodgers would have to do some maneuvering within their infield to make Machado work long-term, it shouldn’t be ruled out. They are a deep-pocketed team that plays in one of America’s most iconic cities. Perhaps the biggest threat is the New York Yankees. While the Yankees currently have Didi Gregorius under contract to play shortstop in 2019 and two extremely talented young infielders in Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, they were among the teams that inquired on Machado prior to him being traded to the Dodgers. Having spent much of his career in the American League East with the Baltimore Orioles, both Heyman and Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia have suggested that Machado’s dream destination would be the Yankees. Perhaps even so much so that he would be willing to move back to third base, per Heyman.
The Phillies stand a very good chance of landing Machado this offseason, but it will be interesting to see if the Yankees or Dodgers put a competitive offer together for Machado, if he wouldn’t take a discount to play in one of those two cities.
If the Phillies don’t sign Machado, that likely means that Scott Kingery, who has grown as a shortstop has the 2018 season has gone along, will open the 2019 season as the starting shortstop. J.P. Crawford, the organization’s long-time top prospect, hasn’t had enough of a sample size at the major league level to be written off. However, he’s graded out better in the field as a third baseman, hasn’t hit well and has had bad luck with injuries in 2018. He’ll likely be with the Phillies in 2019, but it’s hard to see the Phillies feeling comfortable entering the season with him as a starter.
In that scenario, Hernandez would likely remain the team’s starting second baseman for 2019. As the Phillies overall talent level increases, Hernandez may not be counted on for as much offensively – for example, Roman Quinn and Carlos Santana have pushed Hernandez out of the leadoff spot recently – but he would still be likely to get a bulk of the starts at second. There may be games in this scenario where Crawford starts at short and Kingery gets time at second base, his natural position. Or perhaps the Phillies will go all-in with Kingery as their shortstop and have Crawford – playing in a utility role – get some looks at second base.
Should the Phillies land Machado to play shortstop, that would of course change things. The natural response from most would be to trade Hernandez and then have Kingery be the starting second baseman moving forward. That may happen, but don’t be so sure.
At his best, Hernandez does a lot of things that the Phillies like. He takes pitches. He’s led the team in walks three consecutive seasons. He hit .294 in both 2016 and 2017. Though he hasn’t fielded as well in 2018, Hernandez has been the sixth best fielding second baseman since the start of the 2015 season. The Phillies listened to trade offers for their second baseman the last two offseasons, with Kingery on the horizon. It doesn’t appear that in either offseason they were especially close to trading Hernandez. At age 28, there’s no reason to think Hernandez’s best years are behind him. But with a 40-point drop in his batting average in 2018, his trade value probably isn’t at an all-time high. So if the Phillies weren’t content with the offers they received for Hernandez the past two offseasons, it’s hard to imagine them accepting a trade this year, unless they are willing to take pennies on the dollar. With Kingery yet to show much of anything offensively and Hernandez under team control for two more seasons, it’s not impossible that Hernandez returns to the Phillies in 2019, even with Machado on the roster.
Gun to my head, Hernandez, the longest-tenured Phillie, will remain that in 2019. That doesn’t mean it would be shocking if he’s traded. But with it having become evident that Rhys Hoskins isn’t a fit in left field, it’s possible the Phillies look to move Carlos Santana this offseason to re-open first base for Hoskins. Santana’s 92 walks currently lead the Phillies. Hernandez is second on the team. Given how much the Phillies value walks, it’s hard to imagine their top two base on balls leaders in 2018 not returning to the team for 2019. One of them may not. But both not returning would be tough to imagine.
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