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Why is Nick Williams still here?

You’d think the team would realize that they don’t really have any use for him, but apparently they still see something

St Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

This offseason has been one of change. That change has been more of turning the page on some players rather than inviting some in. Sure we’ve seen Zack Wheeler come in to solidify the rotation, but think of the players that have left.

Cesar Hernandez.

Maikel Franco.

Tommy Hunter.

Pat Neshek.

And those are just the players. Ownership took roughly 72 years to decide that they wanted a culture change in the manager’s office. Gone is the novice manager, in comes the one with experience, the playoff pedigree, the World Series ring. No more data overload, no more paralysis by analysis. Just old fashioned managing, with a more than a sprinkle of analytical intuition to be added in.

Yet for some reason, there remains someone on the 40-man roster that hasn’t been jettisoned. For some reason, Nick Williams is still around and that is puzzling.

Take a look at the team’s depth chart, courtesy of their very own webpage.

You can see that Williams is still thought of as someone who can make the team, yet he is buried at each of the corner outfield spots for which he is suited. On a team that has seven outfielders to choose from to make up a starting rotation and bench, Williams is at best sixth, ahead of a pariah. Why? What is the reasoning for Williams to still be with the organization?

Outfield depth

We already see the players that are ahead of Williams on the above picture. Jay Bruce and Roman Quinn are there and are the first options in case of injury. Move down to the minor league levels and things get a little more bleak.

Josh Harrison was signed to a minor league deal this offseason, but will presumably be in the infield the majority of his time. According to RosterResource, the following players are then expected to take the following time in Triple-A Lehigh Valley:

Mickey Moniak
Matt Szczur
Mikie Mahtook
Josh Stephen
Cornelius Randolph

That list there, that doens’t inspire much confidence. Should more than one outfielder go down (outside of the eventual Quinn injury), the team would suddenly be very thin with capable outfield bats. Even though Williams struggled last year, it’s pretty clear the team looks at him as being able to step into a major league lineup and be able to produce should the need arise.

Options are a blessing

You know what’s fun if you’re a general manager? Minor league options. Their very name is something that gives you a multitude of ways to manipulate the roster as a season progresses. Seeing a list of players that have multiple minor league options would give them GM the giggles lasting for hours.

Williams has one more option left. So, if he somehow makes the team out of spring training because of, say for example, Andrew McCutchen wasn’t 100% healthy, the team can send Williams to the minors one more time for the entire year. Basically he can ride the Lehigh Valley Express as much as the team needs him to and, guess what? There’s a lot of value in that, especially when that player can actually perform adequately at the major league level.

This is something the team is probably looking at. Three of their outfield options from missed considerable time in 2019. McCutchen of course missed the rest of the season after his knee injury, Bruce strained an oblique and Quinn had his semi-regular injury yet again. It has to be some sort of comfort to the front office that Williams is just a phone call away. Even still, the team seems likely to have received a trade offer at some point, right?

Trade value? What trade value?

In order for someone to want to trade you, you’ll probably need at least one of these things:

  1. Team control of two or more years
  2. A really cheap contract
  3. Upside that is obvious to anyone who watches

Of these three, which does Williams have? As of now, Williams will be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2021, provided he has enough playing time this year, which seems unlikely. He’s still on the pre-arbitration pay scale, so he’s not going to cost anyone that much money. It’s the last point that is debatable.

The wide-eyed optimist could make the argument that Williams does have upside remaining that is untapped by the Phillies organization. The pessimist would then counter and say he has had plenty of opportunity (903 plate appearances) and could only muster a .254/.313/.420 batting line, good for a career 94 wRC+. It’s tantalizingly close to being league average, but still comes in just below. It’s the kind of numbers that a team should roll the dice on, especially since he’ll play most of 2020 as a 26 year old, in that nether region of “still has upside” and “should be in his prime”.

So, it’s a weird thing that Williams is still here. It’s likely that because of what the team has in Lehigh Valley and the injury history of their current reserve outfielders, he might be more valuable to the team now than what they might get back for him in a trade. So while it seems a little odd he’s still in the organization, there are some plausible reasons why. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds for the outfielder.