PHILADELPHIA – The Phillies thought so highly of Scott Kingery in the spring of 2018 that they signed him to a six-year, $24 million contract before he ever played an inning in the big leagues.
They announced Monday night that he cleared waivers, removing him from the 40-man roster and outrighting him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
It is a remarkable turn for Kingery, 27, in a little more than three years. He batted .053 (1-for-19) with 12 strikeouts this season and .159 (18-for-113) with a .511 OPS in 2020. He slashed a combined .229/.280/.387 in four seasons overall. The Phillies hope he rediscovers his swing with the IronPigs and eventually makes his way back to Philadelphia.
In the meantime, they need help in the big leagues.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to really let him go out and play on an everyday basis,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said on the telephone Monday night. “That’s what he really needs. That was prevented by some of our needs here. But he’s in a position where he needs to play, and when I say that, it’s more from an offensive perspective. He’s a good defensive player.
“Really the other part becomes roster management. For us, 40-man roster spots can be very precious with some of the injuries that we have, and we need to get a roster spot for [outfielder Adam] Haseley. He comes off the restricted list [on Saturday]. Plus some other situations, we just thought at this time, based upon [Kingery's] limited playing time and when he has played he hasn’t put up great numbers, that we can get him off the roster and people wouldn’t claim his contract.”
The Phillies have not announced a corresponding roster move, but after they optioned infielder Nick Maton to Lehigh Valley on Sunday, it would not be a surprise to see them select the contract of infielder/outfielder Luke Williams.
Williams, 24, batted .352 with a .904 OPS in 82 plate appearances with the IronPigs before he joined Team USA last month for the Olympic qualifying tournament. He went 8-for-18 with one double, one triple, one home run, six RBIs and a 1.278 OPS with Team USA.
Williams played left field in the tournament, but he has started 11 or more games in his Minor League career at every position except pitcher and catcher. He is the organization’s No. 29 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
“He plays almost every position and he plays them well, he doesn’t just play them,” Phillies player development director Josh Bonifay said last month. “He plays them without making errors. There aren’t too many players in the big leagues who can play all of those positions and play them that well.”
If the Phillies promote Williams on Tuesday, he will not play in the Olympics next month in Tokyo. He will be OK with that.
But the Phillies need Kingery to get right. He is owed $6 million in 2022 and $8 million in 2023, with a $1 million buyout on a $13 million club option in 2024. At the time the Phillies negotiated the contract, they thought they would be getting tremendous bang for their buck.
“We’re really confident it’s going to go well,” former Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said then.
Now, the Phillies just hope Kingery can give them some value.
He has been trying to change his swing from a steep uppercut to a more neutral path through the zone. It has been a struggle.
“I don’t think anybody knows that answer,” said Dombrowski, when asked if there is any sense of how far Kingery is from getting things to click. “The part I can tell you is that he has made strides. But when you’re making an adjustment, it comes and goes. To his credit, he’s worked very hard. But still nobody can say how long it will be.
“He just needs to go out and play. And play and play and play. And hopefully he comes back. Because we still love a lot of his ability. We just want him to hit.”