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Let’s talk about that “move Bohm to a reserve role” business

It’s definitely a thought

Championship Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Every now and then, there are ideas that are bandied about regarding the Phillies by people with a more national focus on the game than one that is fully enamored with the Phillies. It’s natural since they’re required to at least have a working knowledge of all thirty teams and I don’t envy them. I would not want to have to analyze each move the Royals or A’s make. Over at MLB Trade Rumors, they took a look at what the Phillies have done so far this offseason and plotted a theoretical path to spring training for the team and what moves might still lie ahead for them, focusing on several very specific parts of the team. One specific part of that article caught my eye, so I decided to tackle it in the style of “Fire Joe Morgan” since it would involve moving a player out of a starting role and hey, that’s something of a major shift for a team that expects to contend for a World Series.

The team isn’t doing anything right now, so what else are you doing?

Let’s dive in.


One possible scenario that could alter this mix would be to sign a full-time third baseman and push Alec Bohm into a reserve role.

While there are several ideas spelled out here, this is the one that is most noteworthy. Anyone who follows the team knows that moving Bohm off of third base would be akin to moving him to the bench since no one is taking first base anytime soon.

While the 27-year-old former No. 3 overall pick popped 20 home runs and finished third on the club with 97 runs plated, there’s some reason to be skeptical of his ability to continue that level of run production.

I’d be fine with the skepticism being kept at what he can do as far as the RBI total since there are so many outside influences on being able to generate that many RBI in the first place. But the power? Is it not fair to think that all that doubles power we’ve seen the past few years is finally starting to manifest itself as over-the-fence home run power?

I guess you could point at the fact that his average exit velocity dipped yet again in 2023 after peaking in 2021 at 92 miles per hour. But his average launch angle on balls in play has trended in the opposite direction. He’s stopped pounding the ball into the dirt as much as he did when he first started and now he’s lifting a bit more often. Again, the dip in exit velocity is concerning, but I’m not sure that’s cause for a healthy dose of skepticism that he can hit 20+ home runs again.

Bohm has excellent bat-to-ball skills and roughly average power, but the overwhelming bulk of his damage was done against lefties. He torched southpaws at a .303/.335/.594 clip (142 wRC+) but was effectively a singles hitter against righties (.263/.324/.377, 92 wRC+). His career splits paint a similar picture: .314/.362/.530 against lefties but .262/.311/.358 against righties.

You can’t really argue with these numbers. It’s what he did last year and what we have to base it all off of.

If Bohm were a plus or even average defender, that offensive profile would carry him just fine. However, Bohm has been dinged for -46 Defensive Runs Saved and -11 Outs Above Average at third base in his career.

Once a player gets tagged with a certain flaw, it’s really hard to shake that tag. For Bohm, it’s the “he’s a bad defender at third base” tag that is likely going to stick with him the rest of his career (or however long he stays at third). Still, this statement ignores the fact that there was hard work put into improving his defense in the 2022-23 offseason that then translated into improvement both objective and subjective. There was numerous comments made about how he looked better at the hot corner with his glove, but there is also data-based evidence available as well that there was improvement with the glove.

Looking at his overall OAA (outs above average) last year, you’ll see yet another negative number (-5 OAA). A deeper look shows that the overwhelming bulk of that number comes from poor first base play (-6 OAA). At third base, he actually was a tic above average (1 OAA), dispelling the notion a bit that he’s a below average fielder there. It’s less than half the chances he had at the hot corner than in 2022 (-9 OAA at 3B), but that a huge enough swing to suggest the work he did there over the offseason paid off. Even though defensive numbers can fluctuate each year, I don’t think it’s stepping out of bounds saying he was much, much better last year, good enough that slapping an “average” grade on his work with the leather wouldn’t be overstepping things.

He might be a better fit at first base, but that belongs to Bryce Harper now.

Like I said, no one is playing first base for the next nine years in Philadelphia. Even if Bohm were pushed to a reserve role, with Harper and first and Kyle Schwarber an everyday DH, when would Bohm put on the first baseman’s mitt? It’s kind of why this idea becomes untenable anyway.

Bohm clearly has a big league-caliber bat, but it’s easy to argue that he’s best deployed in a more limited role, given the shaky glove and punchless output against right-handed opposition.

Ok, so if you’re going to move him out of a starter’s job, there had better be a much, much better option coming in.

He’s only in his first year of arbitration and projected to earn $4.4MM (hat tip to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz), so he’s plenty affordable in that role. But as he inches through arbitration, the price could begin to outpace his value if he racks up counting stats in an everyday role and doesn’t make substantive gains against right-handed pitching.

Why are we worried about his arbitration numbers past 2024? Isn’t this all about getting better this coming season?

The Bohm scenario, to reiterate, is speculative in nature and not something to which Dombrowski has publicly alluded. But the third base market has names like Justin Turner, Matt Chapman and Gio Urshela in free agency, while there are several teams (Reds, Twins, Cardinals, Orioles) who have some infield surpluses that could present trade possibilities.

Ah.

This is what the kids these days call “the crux of the argument”.

These three names that are suggested are the remaining free agents who might be considered to be an upgrade over what Bohm can give to the team. It just so happens that there is an article being written about ways to upgrade the Phillies. You do the math.

But if we can indulge for a second, ask yourself - would you take Justin Turner over Alec Bohm at this point? His back of the baseball card numbers are similar to Bohm, but his peripherals are strangely similar to what Bohm can do AND he’s worse with the glove at third base AND he’s pushing 40 years old. When Father Time comes calling for Turner, I’d rather not be on the receiving end of it. For me, this move is a push, not an upgrade.

Gio Urshela? Well, if you don’t believe in Bohm’s power, why would you think Urshela would be an upgrade with the bat? He’s worse in every data driven stat than Bohm is, but boy does that .299 batting average in 2023 come awfully close to .300! And if you think he’s been better with the glove....do I have bad news for you.

No, the real argument trying to be made here is that the Phillies should be signing Matt Chapman and that is where you may not get much of an argument from me. We’re not going to even discuss the defense since Chapman is one of the best third baseman ever with the glove, so the focus here would on what he’d bring to the team with the bat.

Average exit velocity, barrel rate, hard hit rate, all of these numbers are ones where Chapman ranks near the tippy top among all qualified hitters. When he makes contact, he hits the ball hard and this is after his had a hand injury in Toronto that affected his standard batting stats. He’d actually be a great addition to the lineup.

He’d also cost them draft picks, push them over the luxury tax and all for what? How many wins is Chapman going to be over Bohm? The scenario where Chapman comes to Philadelphia would all be contract-based anyway. If the team could get him on a solid contract that benefits them, I’m sure they’d do so. But again, Chapman’s demands have to come down to a point where Philadelphia would engage with him and I’m not sure that is going to happen.

There’s no glaring hole in the lineup here — as one might expect from a back-to-back LCS participant — but a more specialized role for Bohm could improve the roster in multiple ways.

“No glaring hole”? Not so sure I’d agree with that statement since I’d say that so far, one of the outfield spots looks like it’ll be pretty rough, but we’ll let it slide for now.

Alternatively, the Phils could add a third baseman and see if Bohm could fill that right-handed-hitting void in left field. The defense might not be pretty, but that’s already true as it is at third base.

Can you imagine Bohm in left field now?


Listen, there are good points here. Anyone with a clear eyed take on the Phillies knows that Bohm is probably not going to be the long term solution to the team’s third base spot. If they can address that by adding Matt Chapman at something a bit below what he’s asking for at this point, maybe a deal can come together.

The fact that Bohm and the team weren’t able to come together on an arbitration number palatable for both parties shouldn’t make it seem as though there isn’t mutual admiration for each other. Sometimes, that’s just standard business. Some will see it as Bohm being unhappy with the team (or vice versa) and think that maybe the time to get the upgrade is now. As I said, if there is a deal to be made with him, it’s something the team should consider if they’re being honest about the team. I just highly doubt the team would look to make a move like this.