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October 02, 2017

Who will be Phillies longest-tenured player when '18 starts? Freddy Galvis' future far from certain

Here’s a fun game to play with your Phillies fan friends this offseason:

Who will be the longest-tenured Phillies player to report to Clearwater, Fla., in mid-February?

The easy money may be on mercurial power-hitting third baseman Maikel Franco, who had his second straight inconsistent year at the plate but finished strong, showing the promise that’s in his talented bat in the season’s final month. Franco, who debuted with the Phillies in September of 2014, has four more years of club control, too.

Two bullpen arms that emerged this season – which was impressive since they were both on the bubble of making the team back in March – are sleeper candidates for this distinction. Luis Garcia pitched in his first game with the Phillies in July of 2013, Adam Morgan in June of 2015.

Utility infielder and soon-to-be free agent Andres Blanco (Phillies’ debut in July of 2015) isn’t likely to be back. Veteran catcher Cameron Rupp (Sept. 2013) was the organization’s winner of the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award for his off the field efforts, but, with Jorge Alfaro here for good and Andrew Knapp’s promise (only Rhys Hoskins and J.P. Crawford had a higher walk rate), Rupp could obviously be the odd man out.

And then we arrive at the crowded middle infield, where two of the team’s mainstays reside and two top prospects await regular, full-time big league jobs. The Phillies could certainly look to shop Cesar Hernandez (Phils’ debut May 2013) for pitching this winter with Scott Kingery close to big league-ready (they could also shop Kingery or any of their other infielders, too, of course).

And then there’s the man who received this distinction – longest tenured Phillies player – exactly a year ago today when Ryan Howard played in his final game in red pinstripes: Freddy Galvis.

Galvis, who signed with the organization as a 16-year-old in 2006 and made his big league debut with the team in April of 2012, will have an offseason unlike any he’s had in his professional career this winter. After starting each of the Phillies first 131 games this season at shortstop, a position he’s held since Jimmy Rollins was traded to Los Angeles three winters ago, Galvis watched from the bench as top prospect J.P. Crawford made the first back-to-back starts at shortstop (his natural position) in his career in the final two games of the 2017 regular season.

“It was something we were talking about – it was no big deal,” Galvis said of whether he was disappointed to be on the bench in what very well may have been his last two games in a Phillies uniform.

Galvis, one of the most affable and professional players to call the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park home in the last decade, has handled what could have been a very awkward transition at his position the same way he plays shortstop: with grace. He’s wise enough to know the big-picture situation (he’s a free agent after 2018 and the front office has been high on Crawford for a while) but he’s prideful enough to maintain confidence that he’s done all that he could to maintain his role on the only big league team he’s ever known.

“It’s kind of weird,” Galvis admitted. “I think it’s going to be the first time in the offseason with that kind of situation. I just have to be ready for whatever happens. Whatever happens is going to happen. My mind is right here right now and that’s it. …

I just tried to be on base, score runs, and try to move the runners. That was my job, and I feel pretty good for what I did.

“Whatever happens tomorrow happens tomorrow. I think about the future with my family and I just want to be with my family. But right now whatever happens happens. I’m still a Phillie right now.

Galvis’s critics have long focused on one statistic on the back of his baseball card: on-base percentage. And there’s no sugarcoating it, either. Galvis’s career .287 OBP is substandard.

It’s been a bit better since he became an everyday player (.295 in the last three seasons) and he made real strides knowing he had to improve off last season, when his OBP ranked last among all qualifying big league players. Galvis’s OBP jumped from .274 to .309 from 2016 to 2017.

It's still a good bit lower than the average OBP among MLB players in 2017: .324.

“I think I improved a little bit, the on-base percentage, the average, too,” he said. “I just tried to be on base, score runs, and try to move the runners. That was my job, and I feel pretty good for what I did.”

Galvis’s walks were up (6.8 percent walk rate in 2017, 4.0 in 2016) and his strikeout rate was down (16.7 in ’17, 21.8 in ’16) but his ceiling as an offensive player is obviously limited. Meanwhile, the kid behind him (Crawford is five years younger than Galvis, who turns 28 next month) is known for his plate discipline and ability to get on base.

Crawford has a .367 OBP in five minor league seasons and had a .356 OBP in the small sample size of his first three-plus weeks in the big leagues, with nearly as many walks (16) as he had strikeouts (22). He also displayed power in his final 3 1/2 months at Triple-A (14 home runs, 19 doubles, and five triples in his last 94 games).

As Crawford showed all over the diamond in September, he also has all of the tools to be an elite defender.

Will he be every bit as good with the glove as Freddy Galvis if he’s manning shortstop in April of 2018? Probably not.

But even Galvis admitted he had his own growth spurt in recent seasons despite coming up through the minor league system being known for his elite-level defense. He acknowledged it after taking a photo following Sunday’s game with one of the most sure-handed shortstops in Phillies history, Larry Bowa, who also may be with a different organization in 2018.

“I have to say, man, he elevated my defensive game to different places,” Galvis said. “I always knew I could pick the ball and I can make some outs, but working with Bo he elevated my game to a different level.”

Crawford will surely be given time to make his own big league strides, possibly as soon as when the Grapefruit League schedule begins and he’s penciled into his new manager’s lineup as the Phillies regular shortstop, as he was this weekend.

It’s possible that Galvis is back, too. Maybe the Phils trade Hernandez in a package for a proven pitcher, and they use Crawford or Galvis at second base until they deem Kingery ready. (Delaying Kingery early into 2018 does buy the front office an additional year of club control/delays his eventual free agency).

The eventual new manager will have no loyalty to Galvis, and could adjust him to a utility role when Kingery does arrive. Or perhaps Galvis is dealt before the deadline to a contending team looking for a Gold Glove-worthy defender. (The 2008 Phillies had just that kind of player in Pedro Feliz, whose offensive numbers that season were eerily similar to Galvis’s in 2017).

But whether it’s this winter or next summer, the likelihood that Galvis is wearing a different uniform is approaching. And the team’s longest-tenured player and 2017 Ironman (he became one of 11 players in franchise history to play in all 162 games in a  single season) understands it.

And the people who watched him go about his work every day, on the field as an anchor for the defense and off the field as a leader in a young and impressionable clubhouse, have appreciated his presence.

“He's due all the respect,” Mackanin said. “Every player and coach on this team respects him. For him to ask to play all 162 games was special. … It’s a tough decision (for the front office) but I know for a fact that the people upstairs, Matt (Klentak) and Andy (MacPhail) and all of them, they really love Freddy. They realize what a good player he is and they also acknowledge the fact that J.P. Crawford, this guy can play, so it's a tough decision. It will be up to them.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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