Didi Gregorius Gives Phillies Early Lead for Winners of the Offseason

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 11, 2019

New York Yankees' Didi Gregorius follows through on a grand slam home run against the Minnesota Twins during the third inning of Game 2 of an American League Division Series baseball game, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The Philadelphia Phillies now have a big bat to go with the big arm they plucked off the free-agent market.

A day after announcing their five-year, $118 million deal with right-hander Zack Wheeler, the Phillies reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with shortstop Didi Gregorius on Tuesday.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post was first to report on the pact, while Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia was first with the terms:

According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Gregorius might have been able to find a multiyear deal for $14-15 million per season. However, it's not surprising he chose to bet on himself by accepting a one-year "pillow" contract.

After all, his 2019 season was one to forget. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2018, Gregorius didn't return to the New York Yankees lineup until June 7. Over 82 games, he mustered only a .718 OPS, 16 home runs and 0.6 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

Clearly, what both Gregorius and the Phillies are hoping for in 2020 is a performance more akin to what he did for the Yankees from 2016 to 2018.

In those three seasons, Gregorius increased his OPS from .751 to .796 to .829 and his home runs from 20 to 25 to 27. When combined with his solid glove work, he was worth a solid 10.2 WAR.

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Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Because Gregorius will turn 30 in February, there's room for doubt as to how much prime production he has left in him. But at the least, he won't have to shake off any rust in 2020. He's also walking into a situation that should make him feel comfortable.

According to C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic, the opportunity to reunite with former New York manager Joe Girardi was one of the things that drove Gregorius' decision to sign with Philadelphia:

Gregorius should also enjoy hitting at Citizens Bank Park. Even without an ultrashort porch in right field, it still outranked Yankee Stadium as a friendly environment for left-handed sluggers in 2019.

If all goes well, the Phillies will get more out of Gregorius than they did out of their shortstops last season. The bar there is 1.6 WAR, which a healthy, productive version of Gregorius can clear with plenty of room to spare.

In addition to Gregorius, the core of the Phillies lineup will also feature Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura (who'll presumably slide from short to second base), Rhys Hoskins and Andrew McCutchen, the last of whom should be recovered from a torn ACL. That core should drive an improvement on the modest 4.8 runs per game the Phillies scored in 2019.

On the pitching side of things, Aaron Nola and Wheeler could form one of the best one-two punches in all of Major League Baseball. Nola needs only to live up to his spectacular 2018 season, while Wheeler needs only to harness his extraordinary upside.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

With their new manager, ace and shortstop in place, the Phillies should avoid a third straight .500-ish season. Something more like 90 wins is in order.

Whether they're good enough to be a 95- or 100-win team capable of a spirited run at the World Series, however, is debatable.

While there's plenty of potential packed into the core of their lineup and the top of their rotation, there's still a tangible lack of depth around both. Rather than trust that things will work out, the Phillies should have it in mind to altogether erase those shortcomings.

Fortunately for them, they still have options aplenty. Certainly the biggest fish is ace right-hander Gerrit Cole, who MLB Network's Jon Heyman says has the Phillies' interest:

Instead of handing third base over to Scott Kingery or newcomer Josh Harrison, the Phillies might sign Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson or even pull off a trade for 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant. Per ESPN's Jeff Passan, he's one of many core stars whom the Chicago Cubs are willing to move.

Because the Phillies have thinned out their farm system and pushed their 2020 luxury-tax bill within $2.6 million of the $208 million threshold, they might have reservations about pursuing any more seismic transactions.

Or, they could realize they're not in a position to take any chances. The NL East was the strongest division in the Senior Circuit in 2019, and it's set to reclaim that title.

Even without any major new additions, the New York Mets can at least defend their 86-win 2019. Elsewhere, the Washington Nationals have retained Stephen Strasburg, Howie Kendrick and Yan Gomes, and the Atlanta Braves have spent tens of millions of dollars on Will Smith, Cole Hamels and a variety of depth pieces.

In the face of all this, the Phillies' early wins with Wheeler and Gregorius should merely be the beginning of a far grander offseason victory. The more items they check off their shopping list, the further they can rise above mediocrity.

   

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus. Payroll data courtesy of Roster Resource.

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