If we are to believe Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and every other content farm that specializes in baseball prospect evaluation, and if we are to trust local sportswriters, statistics, our own intuitions and a divine entity, J.P. Crawford will shortly be starting at shortstop for the Phillies, and will remain there for years to come.
Crawford looks special. He feels special. He’s a universally understood top-five prospect, and probably a top-three prospect. And as a shortstop with a superb glove, terrific plate approach and level swing, he doesn’t look like a repeat of Domonic Brown. So far, so good.
The biggest question surrounding Crawford, at least in the short term, is exactly when he will be called up to start for the Phillies. Some have said in April or May. Some believe it’s more mid-season. Some say September. Some even say 2017.
This isn’t that important, except that if the Phillies call up Crawford in April, they will be able to pay him a lower salary for six years and not seven. And if the Phillies call him up before June, it potentially makes him a Super Two player, meaning he’ll be paid arbitration for four years, not three.
The former is what happened with Maikel Franco. Since the Phillies called him up in September 2014, he accrued 27 days of service time. So calling up Franco anytime before mid-May 2015 would’ve resulted in Franco accruing a full year of service time (172 days) between 2014 and ‘15. By waiting, the Phils pushed back Franco’s clock (he has only accrued 170 days); he’ll be a free agent after 2021, not 2020.
Factoring into the Crawford decision is the status of the Phils’ current middle infielders, Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis and Andres Blanco. For opening day, not much will likely change, especially if you’re to believe manager Pete Mackanin.
“I think Freddy – if you look back three, four, five years with Galvis, nobody really expected him to hit more than … we figured with his glove if he hit .240 it’d be a bonus,” Mackanin said at a recent press conference. “I don’t see any reason why he can’t hit .280 this year.”
Then he spoke about Hernandez: “(He) finally got an opportunity to make his mark, and he – to me, at this point – solidified that job for this year, the way I look at it.”
That seems to indicate that Hernandez is your second baseman this year, and while nothing is immediately certain for Galvis, Mackanin likes his bat. A Crawford callup in June or July, which moves Galvis to a utility role, isn’t hard to see. That causes repetition with Blanco, who played outstanding baseball in 2015 and earned a raise through arbitration.
So then what?
It seems the clock is ticking on the Phillies to make a long-term decision on Galvis. Last year was his first full season as a starter; he turned in 603 plate appearances and put together an uninspiring .263/.302/.343 triple-slash with 103 strikeouts and 30 walks, while playing ultimately average defense. Now 26, it’s unlikely Galvis becomes a first-division shortstop, and really he’s probably a stretch as a second-division shortstop. Longterm his fit looks more like a utility infielder, though a strong 2016 campaign could change that.
But the Phillies don’t really have the time to consider Galvis for another full season. Bluntly, Crawford has earned the opportunity to play in Philadelphia as soon as possible. He has outperformed his peers and previous scouting at every level. He has demonstrated the skill set of a franchise player. Moreover, he has assumed a leadership role around other Phillies prospects. Bringing him to Philly earlier than Nick Williams, Andrew Knapp, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Roman Quinn and others would act almost as a symbolic gesture, a torch passing, in some respects.
And the moment Crawford begins playing, and Hernandez is staying at second base, is the moment Galvis’ value begins declining rapidly.
In short, the Phillies should be entertaining trading Galvis to a team needing a shortstop. Of course, here’s the hard reality: Not many teams need a Galvis. Non-contenders don’t need a statistically average-at-best $2 million middle infielder with two more arbitration years ahead, especially when those non-contenders have their own top prospect ready to take the reigns at shortstop.
So count out Milwaukee (Orlando Arcia) and Cincinnati (Alex Blandino). You can also count out Atlanta, as there’s no reason the Braves would want to take on any unnecessary salary.
You can also count out teams with better shortstops (Houston, Texas, Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City, Cleveland, Toronto, Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets). You can also count out:
What remains are contending teams employing veteran, below-average shortstops. And there are two.
Baltimore employs J.J. Hardy, who’s 33 and is making $26.5 million over the next two seasons. That isn’t great news for O’s fans, as Hardy’s offense fell off a cliff (.219/.253/.311 with 8 HR and 37 RBI in 2015), though he apparently played the entire season injured. Of course, a chronically injured 33-year-old middle infielder could be real trouble (oh can we relate). Hardy still shines a superb glove, but if the O’s want to stay contenders in 2016, they may need a backup plan at shortstop.
Finally, Pittsburgh has Jordy Mercer, who’s 29 and making $2 million in 2016, his first year of arbitration. Mercer was also injured in 2015 (knee), and put up pretty bad numbers (.244/.293/.320, 3 HR, 34 RBI). Defensively he’s better than Galvis, like Hardy, so it’s not as if Galvis represents an upgrade from Mercer. Still, a backup plan is a good idea, though the Pirates have more of one than Baltimore. They could patch together shortstop with Pedro Florimon and Sean Rodriguez, or they could slide Jung Ho Kang over to short and let Josh Harrison stay at third. But none of these options are optimal for a team trying to compete with the Cubs and Cardinals.
Of course, teams could look at Galvis for second base, but he doesn’t rate particularly high at that position, either.
Here’s the point: J.P. Crawford is coming. The Phillies are likely to have an influx of average-at-best middle infielders by mid-summer. Galvis could prove a halfway decent trade chip to a team needing a quick fix. They should keep their eyes open.