The start of the 2021 season will mark three years since the Philadelphia Phillies signed Scott Kingery to a six-year, $24 million extension before he ever played a major-league game.
While a contract that affordable is certainly not a burden for the Phillies, it is unclear thus far whether it was the correct move.
In three seasons, Kingery has had one good one – in 2019, when he finished with a .788 OPS – sandwiched by two seasons that ranked near the worst in the majors. In 2020, many thought Kingery would have a breakout season as the everyday second baseman, but after batting with COVID-19 in the summer, Kingery struggled greatly at the plate, with an OPS of just .511.
Kingery also struggled in the field with -6 defensive runs saved in what was supposed to be his first full-time season at second base. This came as a bit of a surprise, since Kingery was considered a great defensive second baseman in the minors and has shown the ability to play multiple other positions at a proficient level.
At the end of the 2020 season, manager Joe Girardi predicted a bounce-back 2021 for Kingery, citing COVID-19 as the biggest reason for his struggles.
How much Kingery’s struggles had to do with his bout with COVID-19 is unclear, but the fact that it was not the first time he struggled to that extent certainly increases the concern. His .605 OPS ranked 267th out of 268 qualified hitters in his rookie season in 2018, so his struggles in 2020 weren’t an outlier in his major league career.
Depending on Kingery to be an everyday player could be risky for the Phillies, but it’s not like he has never shown the ability to succeed. Fueled by a red-hot first half in which he slashed .292/.344/.545, Kingery had the third-highest position player fWAR on the Phillies, 2.7, in the 2019 season.
As easy as it would be to write off Kingery, he has had success before and is just a few years removed from being a top prospect in the Phillies farm system. He is also guaranteed $18.75 million over the next three seasons, so barring a trade, he will be a Phillie through the 2023 season. It would behoove them then, to give Kingery every chance to be someone that plays every day.
If the season started today, Kingery would likely slot in as the Phillies everyday second baseman or shortstop, with Jean Segura manning the other position. This could definitely change, though, given trade rumors surrounding Segura and that there are plenty of other middle infielders available in free agency.
If the Phillies do pursue other middle infielders in free agency, Kingery might be the best defensive option on the roster in center field. His positional versatility combined with the Phillies weakness up the middle could guarantee a spot for Kingery, especially if they decide to be frugal this offseason.
Unless the Phillies make a sudden change to their approach this offseason, Kingery has multiple clear paths to significant playing time in 2021. And given the extent of his struggles throughout his career thus far, Kingery having such a role in the coming season is another sign of the Phillies not going all-in to contend in 2021.
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