PHILADELPHIA – The Phillies filled a hole behind the plate and returned a major piece to Joe Girardi’s lineup on Tuesday when J.T. Realmuto agreed to a five-year, $115.5 million contract, according to a source. The team has not yet confirmed the deal.
He will help the cause in 2021, but the Phillies still have another glaring hole on the infield dirt: shortstop. They pushed as late as Tuesday to sign free-agent shortstop Andrelton Simmons, but he accepted a one-year, $10.5 million offer from the Twins. That the Phillies fell short on a relatively affordable one-year deal raises a question about their ability to sign the only remaining top-tier free-agent shortstop on the market: Didi Gregorius. He is believed to be seeking a multiyear deal.
Can the Phillies offer him one?
Equally as important, if the Phillies cannot, can Gregorius find one elsewhere?
The Reds and A’s are looking for a shortstop, too. Like the Phillies, the Reds fell short in their pursuit of Simmons. It suggests that they also might have some difficulty getting to where Gregorius wants to go. The A’s historically keep one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, but these are desperate times. It only takes one team to go the extra mile.
Gregorius, 30, makes so much sense for the Phillies, especially if they hope to contend in the National League East. He slashed .270/.318/.477 the previous four seasons with the Yankees and Phillies. He is a big reason why the Phillies ranked fifth in baseball in scoring (306 runs). Internally, the Phillies had some concerns about Gregorius’ defense, which is one reason why they liked the dynamic-fielding Simmons at a reduced rate. The Phillies’ defense ranked 28th in baseball last season with -33 defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs. They ranked 26th with -8 Outs Above Average, according to Statcast.
If the Phillies want to help their pitching staff, an improved defense would help.
But what happens if Gregorius signs with the Reds, A’s or somebody else? The Phillies’ internal shortstop options are Jean Segura or Scott Kingery, with the other likely playing second base. It is far from ideal. Shortstop Bryson Stott is the organization’s No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, but he is probably a year away.
The Phillies could pivot and look at free-agent second basemen. Kolten Wong, Jonathan Villar and Jonathan Schoop are available.
But again, nobody fits better than Gregorius. And if the Phillies cannot compete with the Braves, Mets and Nationals on the pitching side -- even with the modest upgrades they’ve made outside Archie Bradley -- they might need to outslug them. Gregorius gives them a better shot at that.