How the Phillies could rethink center field heading into the trade deadline - The Athletic

2022-06-15 18:15:45 By : Ms. Spring Lin

PHILADELPHIA — Mickey Moniak crushed the ball in spring training until he broke his right hand, then did it again with five extra-base hits in eight minor-league rehab games, so the Phillies wanted to see him in center. Everyone did. He had put in the work and become more receptive to adjustments. They rewarded him with six starts in 10 games, but center field at Citizens Bank Park is cursed. Time is a flat circle out there.

So, Moniak was playing center field Tuesday night for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

“It’s probably the best thing for Mickey right now,” interim manager Rob Thomson said, and it is uncomfortable to acknowledge that because it means it’s best for the Phillies to not have him on the active roster. But the Phillies did not have plans for Moniak before his impressive spring. They have returned to the original idea — a platoon between Matt Vierling and Odúbel Herrera — and maybe Moniak will hit well in the minors.

But his performance in the majors — 84 plate appearances in disjointed stints over three seasons — has been consistent. Moniak doesn’t make much contact. When he does, it isn’t hard. He has struck out in 39 percent of his major-league plate appearances, and his last extra-base hit with the Phillies was on April 21, 2021. It is his only extra-base hit in the majors. All 11 of his strikeouts were on breaking balls or off-speed pitches. Most evaluators have viewed him as a fourth outfielder, and although he hasn’t had ample opportunities to prove himself in the majors, those aren’t gifted to anyone.

The Phillies will face a bunch of lefty starters in the next week. It never made sense to carry both Moniak and Herrera because they hit left-handed. Vierling, a right-handed hitter, is a better fit for the roster. He’ll have a chance at extended playing time. Everyone has heard this story before. It probably ends with Herrera seeing the majority of time in center because, despite his many flaws, he somehow emerges from the pack every time there is a debate about who should play center field.

There is a larger question to ponder beyond the unsurprising transaction the Phillies made before Tuesday’s game. It is best to not dwell on the negatives right now. The Phillies have won 10 of their last 12 games and should do enough to stay in the race for a wild-card spot this summer. All anyone asked is to be entertained for five or six months. These Phillies should oblige that request.

But as the Aug. 2 trade deadline approaches, the Phillies will be forced to think hard about the short- and long-term plans for this roster. They will target bullpen help because they always need bullpen help. Maybe Jean Segura’s injury and Alec Bohm’s struggles (if they deepen) will force them to consider an infield upgrade.

Maybe they’ll rethink center field for the 33rd time in the past few years.

There will be rumors about Bryan Reynolds and Cedric Mullins because they are young and talented center fielders who play for teams that are not trying to win in 2022 or 2023. The Phillies will be protective of their two top prospects, Andrew Painter and Mick Abel, but maybe they’ll consider dealing anyone else — as long as it fetches them a young big-league player who can slot into the lineup for at least another season or two after 2022. If catcher Logan O’Hoppe is the club’s best trade chip because he is blocked by J.T. Realmuto, he would not fit in a deal with either Pittsburgh or Baltimore because both have spent recent No. 1 picks on promising catchers.

Maybe the Phillies would rather devote their scant prospect capital to a more pressing need than center field. They will have to make decisions in the winter about every infield spot, at least two rotation spots and the entire bullpen. It’s one thing to protect future assets; it’s another to waste the primes of the many players they have locked into lucrative contracts. There are ways to address both a current and future need, although the Phillies have not always been willing to offer the types of prospect packages required at the trade deadline to obtain a controllable young talent.

Not everything has to be perfect. Center field is an annual mess, but it is unreasonable to expect the Phillies to have above-average production at every position. Center fielders across the league entered Tuesday with a .692 OPS. The Phillies were in the bottom third with a .638 OPS and 0.4 WAR, according to FanGraphs. Even if center field is the most logical place for an upgrade should the Phillies pursue a non-pitching acquisition, they could do it on a smaller scale and delay a more long-term decision until after the season.

The Phillies have prioritized offense at every spot on the field. Absent a better idea, July could be a chance to procure someone who can cover as much ground as possible between Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. Whether it’s Michael A. Taylor or Ramón Laureano or Victor Robles, those kinds of center fielders should be available for a palatable price. Vierling, while athletic, does not always have the best reads in center. He misplayed a ball Tuesday night against the Marlins that landed as a double to begin the seventh inning.

Vierling is here to hit lefties and play a passable center. He profiles as a fourth outfielder in a platoon, which is how the Phillies will use him after three weeks in the minors.

“He went right to work,” Thomson said of Vierling. “He got after it. He got the swing back. He got consistent at-bats, which is key. He came back and has helped us ever since. We’re kind of expecting the same thing with Moniak. He goes down and finds a swing fairly quickly and, you know, we’ll see where we’re at.”

The Phillies told Moniak after Monday’s game that he was being demoted. He batted leadoff Tuesday for the IronPigs and crushed a fastball for a home run. He’ll spend at least 10 days in Triple A — barring an injury to someone else — and maybe he’ll recapture the feeling from spring training.

But there won’t always be a revolving door in center.

“He’s a big part of this club now,” Thomson said, “and in the future.”

(Top photo of Ramón Laureano: Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)