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.

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Phillies officials left the winter meetings with much of their offseason work still in front of them.
 
Manny Machado was still a front-burner free-agent item. Bryce Harper was still in the background and J.T. Realmuto was headed to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York … anywhere but Philadelphia.
 
You know the rest of the story.
 
Spring training had already begun by the time the Phillies settled their offseason last year. A year later, Phillies officials departed the winter meetings on Thursday with their heavy offseason lifting complete.

The Phils signed free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract last week and free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million deal at the meetings this week. The signings left the Phils about $5 million under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for the coming season and the club will be mindful of that. It’s likely — though not certain — that any further moves the Phillies make will qualify as tweaks.
 
Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the remainder of the offseason.

The starting rotation

Aaron Nola and Wheeler give the Phillies a “1 and a 1-A,” as manager Joe Girardi said.

Jake Arrieta is healthy and will be ready to go Day 1 of camp and Zach Eflin will hold down a job. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are slated to battle for the fifth job, though it would not be surprising to see the Phils bring back Drew Smyly on a minor-league deal to join the fight. The Phils were keeping an eye on Rick Porcello to see where his market was headed, but he signed for one year and $10 million with the Mets. Lefty Wade Miley could be someone to keep an eye on, depending where his market goes. The Phils are committed to having top prospect Spencer Howard start the season in Triple A, but he could have a major impact as the season goes on. The Phils will watch Howard’s workload — because of injury, he pitched under 100 innings last year — so adding bargain depth is a must.

The bullpen

At the moment, it looks like a fairly unchanged unit. The Phils are banking on Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez being healthy again and Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez carrying a heavy load again. Pivetta, Velasquez or both could be used in the ‘pen, depending on the depth that is added in the rotation. If the Phils want to push the tax, they could make a play for former Yankee Dellin Betances. Someone from the system like Garrett Cleavinger or Connor Brogdon could surprise in spring training. How about Tommy Hunter? The Phils put a lot of time into his rehab after elbow surgery last year. Could he be a fit on a bargain deal? Ditto for Jared Hughes and Mike Morin.

The bench

Former All-Star and .300 hitter Josh Harrison has been signed on a minor-league deal. He can play anywhere and figures to have a good chance to make the club. Phil Gosselin, another jack of all trades, is coming back on a minor-league deal and the team has shown some interest in free agent Matt Szczur. Brad Miller remains a free agent and a potentially good fit. Jay Bruce will add power off the bench. Andrew Knapp returns as backup catcher but it would not be surprising to see the Phils sign one or two more veteran catchers to push for work and add depth. Remember, Girardi has said he’d like to keep Realmuto to between 120 and 130 games so he is fresh in October. “That’s where the prize is,” Girardi said. Austin Romine would have been a nice fit, but he signed with Detroit. 

Trades

While it appears as if most of the team’s major moves are done, general manager Matt Klentak and his group will continue to stay engaged on the trade front and you never know if one could materialize. Nick Williams could be dealt. Miami has long liked him. Velasquez could be dealt for some salary relief, particularly if the Phils are able to add starting pitching depth. The Phils would surely listen on Jean Segura, but he has three years and $45 million left on his deal so that would not be easy.
 
Could the Phils make a major trade?
 
After seeing the Realmuto deal come together so quickly last February, it can’t be ruled out. Even something crazy is possible. By crazy we mean Kris Bryant. Yes, he’d be a nice fit as the Phils make a quick push at a title before he becomes a free agent. But it’s a real long shot and it would probably cost top prospect Alec Bohm, and it would definitely push the Phillies over the luxury tax threshold, though managing partner John Middleton has said he would go over it for the right championship-caliber opportunity. Maybe that’s Bryant. There will continue to be buzz about him and the Phillies will continue to be connected to him as long as there is.
 
J.A. Happ could be another guy to watch on the trade front. The Phils made him an offer last winter and he signed with the Yankees. The Yanks are now eager to move his $17 million salary and might attach a good prospect to the package to help make the deal. Happ would put the Phillies over the tax, but, given the Phils’ need for more pitching, it might it be worth rolling the dice on the left-hander having a bounce-back year if and only if the Yanks attach a good prospect or two to the deal. 

What about Herrera?

The end of the winter meetings begins to put spring training in focus and the Phillies have a big decision to make before then: Do they bring Odubel Herrera to camp? Do they release him? The Phils would eat most of his salary to trade him, but there has been no interest.
 
We dealt with the Herrera situation more deeply in this story.

Realmuto's extension

Sometime before spring training, the Phils are expected to pursue a contract extension with Realmuto.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19

More on the Phillies

At the Yard podcast: Ken Rosenthal joins to talk Phillies, Kris Bryant, Anthoy Rendon

121219attheyard.jpg
NBCSP

At the Yard podcast: Ken Rosenthal joins to talk Phillies, Kris Bryant, Anthoy Rendon

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman are joined by special guest Ken Rosenthal to talk Phillies and wrap up the Winter Meetings on the At the Yard podcast.

• Ken and Jim on the crazy week it was in San Diego

• Could we soon see a $500 million contract?

• Fallout of Rendon choosing the Angels

• Ken Rosenthal's thoughts on Phillies' offseason so far

• Phils have added more than Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius

• What's next for Phils with Winter Meetings in the rearview?

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19