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.

Phillies touch base with agent Scott Boras on Mike Moustakas and free-agent pitchers

Phillies touch base with agent Scott Boras on Mike Moustakas and free-agent pitchers

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Scott Boras, baseball’s most high-powered agent, has forged an undeniable chemistry with the Phillies and owner John Middleton, in particular, over the last two years. It started with the pursuit and eventual signing of Jake Arrieta before the 2018 season and reached a crescendo last winter when the club signed Bryce Harper to a staggering $330 million contract.

Boras will look to capitalize on that chemistry again this winter. The Phillies have needs and he has solutions.

On the pitching side, Boras represents several free-agent starters, including the two biggest stars on the market, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. He also represents lefties Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the majors’ ERA champ in 2019.

The Phillies, as documented, are very much in need of starting pitching.

They also could look to add a third baseman this winter as they allow top prospect Alec Bohm more development time and consider a possible move to another position for him. Boras represents two top free-agent third basemen, Anthony Rendon and Mike Moustakas.

It is likely that the Phils will look to spend the bulk of their free-agent budget on pitching — and it’s difficult to argue with that approach. That could leave the Phillies as interested bystanders in the Rendon sweepstakes as Rendon is seeking a lengthy, mega-dollar deal. The Phils will certainly monitor the market for Josh Donaldson, another free-agent third baseman, but the best fit in terms of dollars and years might be Moustakas, who has played the last two seasons in Milwaukee on one-year contracts.

According to multiple sources, Phillies officials touched base with Team Boras here at the general managers meetings this week and the two sides discussed a number of subjects — and not just pitching.

In other words, Moustakas is very much on the Phillies’ radar.

The Phillies' most pressing need remains starting pitching. Cole is the biggest name on the market. The Phillies will be in the hunt for him, though the Angels and Yankees may pull out all the stops to sign him to what could be a multi-year deal worth more than $250 million. Boras disclosed Wednesday that he recently had lunch with Angels owner Arte Moreno. He would not say if he’d recently broken bread with Middleton.

“Well," he said with a grin, "I’ll let John tell you about that."

Boras, as he typically does at the general managers meetings and winter meetings, which arrive next month, talked up his top clients in florid language.

“If this were major-league Christmas, we would be looking at 30 stockings that clearly wanted a lump of Cole,” he said, referring to his stud right-handed client. “I think starting pitching has become back in vogue. It’s an aggressive market.”

Boras employed an oceanic analogy when referencing Strasburg.

“In the oceans of the playoffs, the Strasburg sank many contending ships,” he said.

Strasburg, along with fellow ace Max Scherzer, helped the Washington Nationals win the World Series last month.

“There are general managers who I said four or five years ago to that, ‘You’re going to have a very hard time winning a world championship if you don’t sign this player.’ And I’m very happy to say that player was Max Scherzer,” Boras said. “I told that to three teams and they have not won and he did win.

“The reality of it is that those No. 1 kind of guys, those special arms, take you through the playoff seas. You have to have them because when it comes down to that, you end up throwing 70 percent of the innings (in the postseason) among three guys. 

“It all boils down to what’s important to (teams), what’s important to their ownership, what drive do they have to get to where they are really going to take risks. All of these things are risks in their minds. But that’s how you win. You take risks. You pay Max Scherzer $30 million a year when no one else would, and by doing that, you’ve been rewarded.”

Boras became convinced that Middleton wants to win after the Phillies signed Harper last winter. 

“I don’t see any stop sign in John’s pursuit of his goal and that’s a world championship,” Boras said. “He’s an owner that has been very straightforward about his path and his commitment. He’s very, very involved in the franchise and it’s really good to see owners really be that committed to their city, to their team. We should really have a dynamic where when people are that involved, they’re going to be as competitive as they feel they need to be to create the winning product they want.”

Boras said the economic value of Harper’s signing with the Phillies — i.e., branding, attendance, TV ratings, merchandise sales, etc. — “will pay the next two years of Harper’s contract.” Harper is more than just the Phillies’ right fielder. He is an influential voice in the organization and his will to win is as strong as the owner’s.

Would Harper, Boras’ mega client, push Phillies ownership to sign one of Boras’ big free-agent pitchers, or, perhaps, one of his third basemen?

“Knowing Bryce, I’m sure that he will be offering a lot of opinions about how to get better and what to do and I’m sure they are listening to him as well,” Boras said.

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



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Phillies move closer to hiring hitting coach, but could they lose staff to Gabe Kapler and Giants?

Phillies move closer to hiring hitting coach, but could they lose staff to Gabe Kapler and Giants?

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Phillies are looking to have a hitting coach in place in the next week or so, according to general manager Matt Klentak.

The field of candidates has been thinned with veteran hitting coach Chili Davis returning to the New York Mets. By all indications, that leaves Joe Dillon and Matt Stairs as the two finalists for the Phillies’ job, though it’s not uncommon for late candidates to emerge. The Phillies interviewed both Dillon and Stairs last week and were in contact with Davis, as well. Dillon has been Washington’s assistant hitting coach the last two seasons. Stairs was the Phillies’ hitting coach in 2017 and the Padres’ hitting coach in 2018.

Dillon might be the favorite because of his close connection to Kevin Long, Washington’s hitting coach. Long was hitting coach with the Yankees during Joe Girardi’s time as manager of that club. Girardi, the Phillies' new manager, has great respect for Long’s work and Long has called Dillon the best assistant hitting coach in baseball.

“I think we’re looking for the best possible candidate to work with our guys, and obviously with a new manager it’s going to be important that the person is on the same page philosophically with Joe,” Klentak said of the hitting coach job. “We’re interviewing people with a variety of backgrounds, some of whom this would be their first time as a hitting coach and others that have done it for some time. We’re just looking for the best possible candidate. We’re not going in with a specific resume that someone has to have.”

At the moment, hitting coach is the only opening on the Phillies’ coaching staff. However, it would not be surprising if another spot were to open now that the San Francisco Giants have named Gabe Kapler manager. Kapler was fired as Phillies skipper last month and could seek to take a member or two of the Phillies’ holdover coaching staff with him. Potential departures could include first base/outfield coach Paco Figueroa, assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero, catching instructor Craig Driver or bullpen coach Jim Gott. All are under contract with the Phillies for 2020 but the club might let one or two of them go so Girardi could have more say in building his coaching staff. Girardi oversaw the hiring of pitching coach Bryan Price and, obviously, has much say on the hitting coach hire.

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

More on the Phillies