Didi Gregorius’ Phillies career may end up being just 60 games long. If so, it was a very good cameo.
Signed by former general manager Matt Klentak last off-season, Gregorius was added to the roster after missing the first half of 2019 with Tommy John Surgery. When he returned for the second half with the Yankees, his power stroke remained but he struggled to hit for average and get on base consistently, and his defense well below average. Seeking an upgrade from Jean Segura and Scott Kingery, Klentak rolled the dice on Gregorius’ ability to bounce back and was rewarded for his faith in the sweet-swinging shortstop.
The 30-year-old played in all 60 games, accumulated 237 plate appearances and hit .284/.339/.488 with 10 HRs, 40 RBIs, an OPS+ of 119 and an fWAR of 1.4. In a National League that was absolutely loaded with talent at shortstop, Gregorius held his own and finished 7th among qualified NL shortstop in fWAR. He was perhaps the most consistent run producer in the Phillies lineup.
Upon the completion of the World Series, Gregorius officially became a free agent. The Phils have five days of exclusive negotiating rights with him before other clubs engage him in contract talks, and the team has until Sunday to give him a qualifying offer of $18.9 million for 2021.
Under normal circumstances, the Phillies would not hesitate to make Gregorius a qualifying offer. If he refuses and signs somewhere else, the Phillies would get a compensatory second-round draft pick for losing him, and if he accepts it, they would retain one of the best shortstops in the NL on a one-year deal.
But these are not normal circumstances.
Last year, the Phils’ payroll was just shy of the $208 million luxury tax and owner John Middleton appears resigned to scaling back payroll next season. The team has laid off numerous long-time scouts and special assistants and more layoffs are expected. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Scott Lauber noted a 10% reduction in payroll would result in the team having between $35-41 million to spend, which sounds like a reasonable assumption.
The team already has in-house shortstop options in Segura and Kingery. Signing Gregorius last off-season was a luxury that the team may decide it’s unwilling to afford itself this time around. If the Phils do plan to spend around $40 million and they desire to keep J.T. Realmuto on a deal that would pay him about $25 million a year on average, that would only leave approximately $15 million to fill their remaining holes. Even on a one-year deal, under that scenario, $18.9 million for Gregorius could be prohibitive.
While signing Realmuto is Middleton’s stated top objective this off-season, the Phillies are unlikely to enter a bidding war with the two New York teams, St. Louis, Washington, or any other franchise that decides they’ll meet the demands of the top free agent on the market. If Realmuto signs elsewhere, that would free up cash they could use to sign Gregorius, but that would only occur after the QO window has come and gone.
While top-tier free agents like Realmuto will likely find no shortage of teams willing to pay him top dollar, a player like Gregorius could find it difficult to find the kind of multi-year deal he’s seeking. Knowing many teams will refuse to pay players in the middle tier of free agency, the odds are better than not Gregorius would accept the qualifying offer, likely tying the Phillies’ hands as they balance payroll restrictions and their desire to re-sign Realmuto.
Of course, fans will argue the team needs to not only spend what they did last year but also exceed the luxury tax, but without the benefit of knowing how much the team made in past seasons and compare it to the obvious losses of 2020, the Phillies (and most of the other teams throughout the league) will point to this season’s cash shortfall as a reason to bring payroll costs down.
By the time Sunday rolls around, it’s more likely than not the Phillies will not make a qualifying offer to Gregorius. They could attempt to sign him to a deal with a smaller average annual value, sign one of the other free agent shortstops on the market for less, or simply hand the job back to Segura, who is under team control for the next three years.
The Phillies appear to be approaching this off-season cautiously, and their handling of Gregorius’ qualifying offer will almost certainly reflect that.
On Episode 428 of Hittin’ Season, I talked about Gregorius, Realmuto, the Phillies’ off-season and the controversy that emerged from Game 6 of the World Series with Phils beat writer Meghan Montemurro of The Athletic.
You can [CLICK HERE TO LISTEN] or stream our conversation below to hear us talk about these topics and more: