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Phillies will be forced to consider drastic defensive overhaul after 2021

Alec Bohm’s long-term defensive future is unclear. (Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Joe Girardi’s frustration with the Philadelphia Phillies defense – or lack thereof – boiled over on multiple occasions this past weekend, and for good reason.

For as much talk as there has been about a dugout interaction (and the postgame response) between Girardi and Jean Segura Sunday, there’s a case to be made that Segura has been the team’s best defensive player in 2021 thus far.

Segura will enter Tuesday’s series against the Miami Marlins with two defensive runs saved, making him the only Phillie with a positive mark in that category. Odúbel Herrera (who has zero defensive runs saved in 154 1/3 innings) is the only other regular position player that isn’t underwater in regards to the metric.

Defensive runs saved isn’t a perfect statistic, nor is really any defensive metric. But what the metric says enforces what you’ve seen with your eyes – the Phillies have been especially poor in the field this season.

There are some things that are locked into place beyond 2021. Bryce Harper is going to be in right field for the foreseeable future (perhaps 10 more seasons), and J.T. Realmuto will be behind the plate through 2025.

But the Phillies have -9 defensive runs saved as a team, the 26th-best mark in baseball. According to FanGraphs, they have two of the 10-worst players in terms of defensive runs saved in Didi Gregorius and Alec Bohm. This isn’t a team that needs a defensive retool, they need to entirely reimagine their defensive alignment, which may not be a realistic goal during the 2021 season.

However, it will probably have to be at the forefront of Dave Dombrowski’s first full offseason at the helm of the Phillies. With a few contracts coming off the books and the potential for the universal DH to return in 2022, here’s a few changes the Phillies could consider defensively.

Alec Bohm Moves To First Base, Rhys Hoskins To DH

The widespread assumption is that the DH will come to the National League on a permanent basis as part of the new collective bargaining agreement that will need to be in place before the 2022 season. That would be ideal for the Phillies current roster makeup.

Bohm will have the remainder of the season to prove that he can stick at his natural position of third base, which would obviously be the optimal situation for all parties. The reality, though, is that since the start of the 2020 season, Bohm is tied for the major league lead among all position players with -11 defensive runs saved. No one is disputing that Bohm has worked hard to make improvements at third base, just as Rhys Hoskins did to fit into left field in 2018. But sometimes it just doesn’t work.

Bohm may never be a Gold Glove first baseman, but he’s looked pretty comfortable at the position in 56 1/3 career innings. It stands to reason that he could be an upgrade over Hoskins, whose -4 outs above average since the outset of the 2020 campaign are 33rd among first basemen.

When he’s locked in, Hoskins is one of the Phillies most important offensive players. He’s also one of the clubhouse leaders, and is probably more valuable on the Phillies than anyone he could bring back in a trade return would be. So for 2022 and 2023, his final two arbitration years, being a full-time DH might make sense for the slugger.

Move Alec Bohm To Left Field

Here’s an alternate scenario: The Phillies decline Andrew McCutchen’s $15 million option for 2022 (which they are all-but certain to do), and try Bohm in left field.

In 2008, the Phillies won a World Series with Pat Burrell in left field, a year before returning with Raúl Ibañez in left. Left field isn’t especially spacious at Citizens Bank Park, and like Burrell, Bohm possess a strong arm, which wouldn’t get a ton of use at first base. He’s also more athletic than Burrell was.

The difference here, though, is that when Burrell and Ibañez were manning left field, Shane Victorino, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, was in center.

We have no idea who will be in center field next season for the Phillies. Odúbel Herrera has been hot at the plate lately, but he can become a free agent after the season and his defensive metrics have been all over the place throughout the course of his career. Some combination of Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley could factor in, but the possibility also exists that the Phillies will make an external addition.

The reality here is that the Phillies would have to make an honest assessment with themselves – do they believe that Bohm could be an above-average left fielder? If not, they seemingly can’t afford to have any more defensive experiments.

Move Didi Gregorius To Third Base

A right elbow injury has prevented Gregorius from playing as consistently as he did in his first season with the Phillies, but when he has been on the field, the 31-year-old has struggled defensively.

Defensive metrics haven’t typically been especially fond of Gregorius’ defensive prowess, but in just 265 2/3 innings, Gregorius has six errors and -5 defensive runs saved. He may just be at the stage of his career where he has to move off of shortstop.

If Bohm is playing somewhere other than third base in 2021, Gregorius could slide to the hot corner. Chances are, his bat will still be effective in 2022, and the Phillies are unlikely to find a suitor for his $14.5 million salary next season without having to pay a sizable portion of it down.

Move Didi Gregorius To Second Base, Jean Segura To Third Base

The Phillies could also consider moving Gregorius to second base. That may mean Segura is traded, although his full no-trade clause and $14.25 million salary make it more likely that he would shift to third base (where he played briefly in 2020) to accommodate Gregorius.

Gregorius has only played second base for 79 2/3 innings of his career, and while he had success in doing so, that came while he was playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014. It’s hard to know if he would be successful at the position in his age-32 season.

We do know, though, that despite a difficult weekend in Dunedin, Segura has four defensive runs saved at second base since the start of the 2020 season. The best move may be for the Phillies to keep somewhat of a certain thing at second base, but the possibility of Gregorius winding up at second base shouldn’t be discounted.

What Happens At Shortstop?

That’s a great question. The guess here is that neither Segura or Gregorius will be at shortstop on opening day, making it a position where the Phillies will probably need to find answers from someone not currently on their major league roster.

No. 3 overall prospect Bryson Stott is a natural shortstop, one who will turn 24 this October. Stott is currently with the High-A Jersey Shore BlueClaws, but it stands to reason that he could move through the Phillies system relatively quickly. It’s not impossible that he gets a bulk of the starts at shortstop in 2022, though that may not be the safest bet either.

There have been indications that the Phillies could be player’s in next offseason’s historic shortstop market, and with McCutchen’s $20 million salary coming off the books, that may be a legitimate possibility. Trevor Story, Corey Seager and Carlos Correa highlight what could be a special class. Story has seen some defensive decline so far in 2021, and Seager has never been seen as an elite defender, but any of those three would be massive upgrades (at least in the short-term) over the current situation.

As far as Nick Maton, we’d bet he’s on the major league roster in a super-utility type role, as opposed to starting regularly at one position.


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