Phillies

Suddenly, Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp is an intriguing trade chip

Suddenly, Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp is an intriguing trade chip

The Phillies have no big trade chips this summer. They could move one or more of Jeremy Hellickson, Peter Bourjos, Jeanmar Gomez, David Hernandez or Carlos Ruiz, but none of those players is going to bring back a huge return, either because of their level of production or contract status.

The best way for the Phils to get some real value for one of their veterans might be to package them together — for example, find a team that needs a starting pitcher and a fourth outfielder and offer Hellickson and Bourjos together.

But even someone like Bourjos, who has been on fire for a month, won't bring back a significant prospect. A better package would include a player we've heard no trade buzz about: catcher Cameron Rupp. Heck, he'd have value by himself.

Rupp, 27, has had a breakout first half. In 222 plate appearances, he's hit .287 with 17 doubles, nine home runs and an .836 OPS. He's in the top five among catchers in batting average, slugging and OPS. Offense behind the plate rarely has been more scarce than it is now, making Rupp a valuable piece to have.

In fact, Rupp's value will likely never be higher than it is now. He's made genuine improvements at the plate, but it's doubtful that he'll finish the season hitting .287. He was a .245 career hitter in the minors.

He'll also never be cheaper than he is now. Rupp is making $518,000 this season. He'll get a raise next season but will be making close to the same salary. Then he's arbitration eligible from 2018 to 2020, so Rupp is under team control for the next four seasons after this one. If another team believes in his offensive production, it could talk itself into viewing Rupp as its catcher of the future.

Should the Phillies sell high? It's a complicated matter.

The most important question is: Will Rupp be of more value to the Phillies than whatever a catcher-needy team is willing to trade for him? One would assume that answer is yes, Rupp has more value to the Phils than Prospect X. But it's also realistic to expect teams to inquire about him because there are several contenders getting absolutely nothing out of their catchers. And with how thin the starting pitcher market is, teams could choose instead to upgrade their weakest offensive positions.

The Indians are in first place in the AL Central. Their catchers have hit .168. The White Sox have made several win-now moves. Their catchers have hit .209 with no power. The Pirates are battling for a wild-card spot and struggling to find a competent catcher with Francisco Cervelli out. Their backstops have hit .213 with a .273 slugging percentage.

But Rupp could also have value to non-contenders in need of a catcher because, again, he's still young and inexpensive.

The only reason this is even worth bringing up is because the Phillies have two catching prospects close to the majors. Switch-hitting Andrew Knapp is an All-Star for Triple A Lehigh Valley, and at Double A Jorge Alfaro is hitting .295 with power and impressive defense. It would be tough to fit all of them onto the same 25-man roster someday. And that day is approaching. Knapp will be 25 in November, and the Phillies will soon want to figure out what they have in him. And it's safe to assume Alfaro already would be at Triple A and closer to the majors if Knapp wasn't there.

Could one of them switch positions eventually? Sure, that's the most likely scenario. It won't be Alfaro, but perhaps Rupp or Knapp could play some first base. If all three catchers remain in the organization this summer and through the winter, the guess here is that the Phillies would open 2017 with Knapp backing up Rupp in the majors and Alfaro playing every day at Triple A. That's not a bad scenario by any means.

Trading Rupp would make sense only if it nets the Phillies an intriguing player they're confident can reach the majors soon at a position of need. If they get to a spot where it behooves them to deal a catcher, moving Knapp might actually be the most logical choice.

The Phillies have already seen Rupp produce at the major-league level. They haven't seen Knapp do it, obviously, because he hasn't yet been called up. Knapp doesn't have the same upside as Alfaro. Knapp isn't nearly the defensive catcher, which is a major consideration in all of this. Knapp is the player most likely to have to switch positions, and you can't be sure yet that his bat will be impactful enough to stick at first base or left field.

Look at the Red Sox as an example. Rumors have swirled for years about potential trades, but they've held on to both of their young catchers, Blake Swihart and Christian Vasquez. They valued Vasquez's defense enough to make Swihart learn left field. But Vasquez hasn't hit enough, and Swihart (currently on the DL) might not be enough of an offensive force to be an everyday leftfielder. Being an above-average offensive catcher makes a player valuable because of supply and demand. But there's a different threshold for offense at first base or in left field. Can Knapp meet it? Hard to say.

In any event, this is a good problem for the Phillies to have. There are few, if any teams in baseball that feel as comfortable with their future catching situation as the Phils. Maybe someday the depth leads them to start Alfaro behind the plate with Rupp backing him up and Knapp in one of those other spots. Maybe.

GM Matt Klentak has already shown he's willing to sell high on a young player if the return is right (see: Giles, Ken). I'm not saying Rupp is assured of regression — he's consistently driving the ball and using all fields — but he does have nine walks and 56 strikeouts, plate selection numbers which foretell an evening-out process. We could look back at this a few months from now and wonder why we didn't 100 percent believe it was time to sell high on Rupp.

The other factor in it, and some readers will discount this completely, is Rupp's standing on the team. Yes, I will use the phrase "clubhouse presence." Rupp is a leader on this team. He's the go-to player for reporters after a game, which a young team needs, especially when things are going bad. The pitchers love him. The position players love him. What kind of message would it send to trade that guy just as things are starting to look up?

These are all matters the Phillies' front office is likely weighing right now, even if they're just hypothetical. It behooves a rebuilding team with an eye on the future to keep all doors open.

MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON — Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

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Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

WASHINGTON -- Dusty Baker's time as the manager of the Washington Nationals is over after two seasons, two NL East titles and zero playoff series victories.

The Nationals announced Friday that they would not be bringing Baker back. His two-year deal with the club is expiring.

The contracts for the members of Baker's coaching staff also are finished. The team said it will work with its new manager to fill those positions.

The moves come the week after Washington was eliminated from its NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with a 9-8 loss at home in Game 5. The Nationals also were bounced from the postseason in the NLDS round in 2016 -- also with a Game 5 loss at home by one run, that time against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This outcome, essentially, is what Baker was worried about as far back as spring training in February, when he made clear his desire for a new contract, knowing his was up after 2017.

Before the series against the Cubs began, Baker was asked about his possible future in Washington.

"I've given some thought to some things, but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make a determination," he said at the time. "There's a good chance I'll be back."

He expected negotiations to pick up after the season ended (see full story).

Turner, Taylor repay Dodgers' patience by sharing NLCS MVP
CHICAGO -- Justin Turner and Chris Taylor shared MVP honors in the NL Championship Series, repaying a Dodgers organization willing to roll the dice on players whose big league careers were stalled.

In Turner's case, it was then-bench coach Tim Wallach who rediscovered him playing in a Cal State-Fullerton alumni baseball game four years ago, after his career appeared all but over.

In Taylor's case, it was Los Angeles' willingness to gamble that an offseason of grueling workouts would enable the young utilityman to rebuild his swing in a matter of months.

The co-MVPs turned up in the interview room together after the Dodgers eliminated the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs 11-1 in Game 5. They were champagne-soaked with hats turned backward, a pair of goggles still perched on Turner's head. Fittingly, they doused each other with praise.

"He's a dynamic player and a table setter," said Turner, who hit .333 for the series, with two home runs and seven RBIs. "When he goes, we usually go as a team."

"I talk to him as much as I can. He's one of the reasons I decided to make the changes I did," said Taylor, who finished at .316 with two homers and three RBIs. Both men also walked five times, as many as the entire Cubs roster (see full story).

Rare Jackie Robinson rookie jersey up for auction
NEW YORK -- A rare jersey from Jackie Robinson's historic rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers 70 years ago could be available for someone with a few spare millions.

The jersey, part of a Heroes of Sports offering by Heritage Auctions, has been certified by Mears, one of the top memorabilia authentication companies. It is accompanied by a letter from Robinson's widow, Rachel, saying it is the one brought home by the Hall of Famer at the end of the 1947 season, when he became the first black player in the majors and earned Rookie of the Year honors.

"This is the only one known from the `47 season, the only one that survived," Chris Ivy, Heritage's director of sports auctions, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "It stayed in his closet for five decades plus until it was eventually sold to a private collector in the early 2000s."

The online auction opened Friday and closes at 11 p.m. on Nov. 19. The entire collection is from one owner and can be viewed on Heritage's website. Other items available for bidding include Babe Ruth's pants from the Hall of Fame induction in 1939, Keith Hernandez's 1978 Gold Glove award, a Wilt Chamberlain jersey from 1966, Bill Vukovich's Indianapolis 500 trophy from 1953 and Muhammad Ali's shoes from his fight against Ken Norton in 1973.

Ivy said the Robinson jersey has been valued at more than $3 million. He wouldn't be surprised to see it exceed that.

"It's tough to estimate a piece like this -- it's a one of a kind," he said. "As far as collectibles a rookie (jersey) is always sought after, something that's significant."