In time, it happens to all of your heroes – the rusting and wearing down until they become a cauterized shell of what they once were. We can see it in the once great Aaron Nola, who has now resigned to being an inefficient strikeout machine. In Sunday’s loss, he pitched what has become his now standard 5.1 innings, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits while striking out 10. Ka-Ching.
J.T. Realmuto too, seems to be mired in a purgatory of sorts – at 28 he was anointed the best catcher in baseball – now 30 and in the 1st year of a 5-year free agent he may already have lost that title.
And then, well there’s the team as a whole, which in typical Phillies’ fashion has lost their luster in a September slide. At 72-71, they’re 4.5 games back from Atlanta in the division lead and 2.5 games down from the Wildcard. How fun.
What has been the hardest oxidation of talent to witness, for me personally at least, has been that of Didi Gregorius. Although only 31 years old, time has not treated the 6’3 shortstop with kindness and his numbers – just like his availability – have suffered this year. Through 86 games Didi is hitting just .219/.277/.383 with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs. Unfortunately, his stats in the field haven’t been any better – Didi has 15 errors on the year, along with the lowest fielding percentage of his career at .953%. It’s a shame, because there was once a time – not all that long ago – when Didi was nothing short of spectacular in the field. While his arm strength remains, his range and overall mobility have been completely zapped. Instead of a being a pure joy to watch at shortstop – a giant with lightning quick reflexes, hands softer than Egyptian cotton, and an arm that shot balls across the diamond like Zeus throwing lightning bolts – Didi now mirrors teammate Andrew McCutchen some 100 feet behind him in left field: slow and plodding, a tin man whose body language begs for the inning to be over.
Unlike McCutchen, however, Gregorius’ contract with the Phillies continues past this season – for another year and $14 million on John Middleton’s payroll. So, with Didi still on the payroll in 2022, how can the Phillies eek the most out of Gregorius next season?
Well, ideally they wouldn’t have to make that determination – because Didi would no longer be on the team, or at least wouldn’t be around for much longer. In signing Didi to a two-year contract this past offseason, it made sense to keep around a capable shortstop while 2019 1st round pick Bryson Stott continued to marinate in the minor leagues – eventually trading Didi either this season or in the off-season to make room for Stott. The problem, however, is that Didi never produced. At all. And while I’m no GM, I have a hard time thinking of a team that would even pick up part of Didi’s $14 million in 2022 – who wants a power-hitting shortstop that doesn’t hit for power and can’t field his position?
The other factor in determining Didi’s future lies outside of the Phillies organization and Bryson Stott – the 2021 short-stop free agent class. While ostensibly it could make sense to keep Didi at short-stop as a gap-filler until Bryson Stott graduates to the big leagues, Stott is not guaranteed to be a success – just look at Alec Bohm. Signing a free-agent such as Trevor Story, Javy Baez, Cory Seager, or even Carlos Correa could benefit the Phillies not only defensively but also offensively. Even if J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins both come out hot in 2022, the lineup craves another power bat to put alongside Harper. Adding a short-stop in free agency would alleviate the pressure defensively off of Didi by allowing the Phillies to slide him into a different position such as left field. Surely, Didi would be an upgrade over Andrew McCutchen…right?
Featured Image: Associated Press
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