It was just three years ago that Nick Williams energized an otherwise lifeless Philadelphia Phillies offense, slashing .288/.338/.473 with 12 home runs and 55 RBIs, giving the organization hope that he could produce at an All-Star level within just a few short years.
It’s been a long three years for Williams, whose tenure with the Phillies may be over after he was designated for assignment Tuesday.
The Phillies signed Carlos Santana to play first base ahead of the 2018 season, pushing Rhys Hoskins to left field, and leaving Williams to compete for playing time in right field with Aaron Altherr. Neither Williams or Altherr seized the starting job in right field in 2018, and even if one had, it probably wouldn’t have mattered given that the Phillies went on to sign Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen after the season.
“It’s unfortunate, Nick came up a few years ago and put up some decent numbers and there were some changes made out of his control and some additions that kind of blocked some of his playing time,” manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday. “[He got used] in the role of coming off the bench, and I think he was used to playing every day.”
Williams struggled as a starter in 2018, and spent much of 2019 wearing out his E-ZPass traveling back and fourth from Philadelphia and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He did find some success coming off the bench for the Phillies in 2018, hitting .333 with three home runs and eight RBIs off the bench for Gabe Kapler’s squad. Said success didn’t carry over to 2019, when Williams was asked to come exclusively off the bench and hit just .145 in 55 pinch-hit at-bats.
It never seemed that Williams and Kapler were on the same page. In the first week of the 2018 season, Williams joked that he wasn’t in the lineup because the computers weren’t high on him, a dig at his new manager’s reliance on analytics. After the usually incurable-positive Kapler was hired to be the manager of the San Francisco Giants last offseason, he told Daniel Brown of The Athletic that he wanted to respond to Williams’ assertion by saying “No, you’re just not very good at baseball.”
For whatever ill will there was between Kapler and Williams, Girardi says that he hopes Williams clears waivers and is able to return to stay in the organization.
“But I think Nick has a lot of talent. I’ve loved my time around Nick, and I hope we don’t lose him because I think he has talent. But sometimes an opportunity like this can be the best thing for a young man. It creates opportunity. And we’ll just have to see what happens. I’m hopeful that we’re able to keep him.”
Especially in a world where so many rosters have affected by COVID-19 outbreaks and opt-outs, it’s entirely possible that Williams will be claimed by another team on waivers. Even if he clears waivers, the Phillies could throw Williams, still only 26, a bone by trading him to a team where he could get another shot. He didn’t make the opening day roster, even with 30 players kept. There was never really a thought that he was a serious candidate to. It’s evident that he’s run his course in Philadelphia.
Williams is the last remaining piece from the July 2015 trade that Ruben Amaro Jr.’s front office worked out to deal Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers. Jerad Eickhoff found success initially, but injuries – and perhaps not being able to throw hard enough to consistently find success at the major league level – doomed his time with the team. Jorge Alfaro’s 2018 season as the starting catcher was a mixed bag, and he was traded to the Miami Marlins in February of 2018 as part of the package that brought J.T. Realmuto to Philadelphia. Pitcher Jake Thompson just didn’t pan out.
It is true that the Phillies pursued signings that pushed Williams to the bench, but he was unable to really play center field and he has -21 defensive runs saved in his major league career in right field. The DH didn’t come to the National League until 2020, at which point Williams had already fallen out of favor. Chances are, if he wants to revive his career, he’ll need to learn to thrive without getting consistent at-bats.
The one thing that stands out, though, is that while Williams probably hasn’t been in the current front office’s plans for some time now, general manager Matt Klentak continued to speak highly of Williams as a person earlier this summer.
“I really like Nick Williams, and there are a lot of people in this organization that do,” Klentak said after Williams didn’t make the opening day roster. “And I know that the last year-and-a-half for him has been challenging, really starting with when we signed [Andrew] McCutchen and then [Bryce] Harper. That put Nick in a much different position than he’d been the prior year. We still believe in his talent…we still believe in the person…but unfortunately, the landscape of the outfield situation with the Phillies has changed in the last couple years and it’s been a difficult situation for him.
“We were very open with Nick yesterday, and he was very open with us – in a really productive…and professional…and respectful way in both directions. We’re gonna take it day by day. But he’s still a guy that we really do think is talented and has a bright future.”
Perhaps now he’ll get to chase that future with a new organization.
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