Phillies

Trading Sixto Sanchez hurts, but J.T. Realmuto is 100 percent worth it

Trading Sixto Sanchez hurts, but J.T. Realmuto is 100 percent worth it

With any trade of this magnitude, the reaction is polarizing.

There's the portion of the fanbase that wants to push the chips in and try to win now with proven major-league talent. There's the other half that wants to hold onto top prospects, build a contender organically and maintain full use of its resources.

J.T. Realmuto is worth trading Sixto Sanchez. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball and probably the only active catcher you could argue possesses all five tools. He can hit for average and power, field and throw well, and run the bases better than any everyday backstop.

You can't just look at Realmuto's production the last three seasons to form an opinion of what he's capable of producing offensively. Marlins Park is gigantic and suppresses extra-base hits. Last season alone, Realmuto had between 15 and 20 deep flyouts and lineouts that would have been extra-base hits at Citizens Bank Park. 

Away from Marlins Park last season, Realmuto hit .283/.350/.520, numbers similar to guys like Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts. There just aren't many, if any, catchers who give you that much on an everyday basis.

"But he's only under contract for two years"

It's shocking how many people have used this as a reason not to make the trade. When did two years become two months?

Realmuto's under team control at discounted prices for the next two seasons. He'll make $5.9 million in 2019, and 2020 is his final arbitration year. 

This is not some insignificant amount of time. It's two full years of the best catcher in baseball, in his prime, and in reality, it's probably more than that. The Phillies wouldn't make this trade with designs of letting Realmuto walk away easily after 2020.

"Is the upgrade at catcher worth it?"

Another common question from the anti-trade contingent. Realmuto is a sizable upgrade over Jorge Alfaro, an upgrade of between two to three wins and perhaps more, depending on how much Alfaro improves moving forward. 

Alfaro showed some promising signs in 2018. His batting line was respectable for a catcher, and he did cut down on his strikeout rate as the season progressed. It would have been difficult for Alfaro to not cut down on his strikeout rate given that it was the highest K-rate in the National League in April. And in May. And in June. Second-worst in July. Third-worst in August.

Defensively, Alfaro has been praised by the Phillies and some of the fanbase for his pitch-framing acumen. He did grade out highly in pitch-framing metrics. However, calling his receiving subpar would be an understatement. Alfaro struggled to catch the ball in 2018, and it wasn't just blocking balls in the dirt. He also whiffed much more than usual on pitches off the outside corner, off the inside corner, high in the zone.

I've talked to quite a few people around the game, including some former players, who are astonished by the difference between the eye test of Alfaro's defense and what some of the metrics say.

Sixto's value

This is where the bulk of the debate lies. Sixto Sanchez was regarded as the Phillies' top prospect and his was the name Phillies fans heard more than any other in recent years. Many did not see Realmuto as a meaningful enough upgrade to part with Sanchez.

If there was a high level of certainty that Sanchez's best-case scenario would play out in the years to come, trading Sanchez might have been unwise. But how confident can the Phillies be, right now, that Sanchez will grow into the top-of-the-rotation arm he has been billed as? 

In 2018, Sanchez pitched 46⅔ innings. He's 20 years old and hasn't yet pitched at Double A. That's not his fault, the Phillies have been very protective with him.

But what would happen if Sanchez encountered elbow soreness again this season? It cost him the final three months in 2018 and a setback prevented him from pitching in the Arizona Fall League. If another injury occurs, his value will surely decrease. And then you're probably not getting a player as good as Realmuto with Sixto as the centerpiece.

"They should trade for a SP instead?"

OK, who? Who is this stud-level starting pitcher in his prime that is available? Right now, there is none. You could've gone after Corey Kluber, but he'll be 33 when the season starts and has a ton of mileage on his arm. You could've gotten Robbie Ray, but he's not nearly as much of a difference-maker as Realmuto.

Maybe the Phillies could've held on to Sixto and traded him for a starting pitcher ahead of the 2019 trade deadline. Or maybe they couldn't have. Realmuto was available right now. Do you hold out in hopes that maybe a starting pitcher more valuable than an elite, everyday catcher becomes available? You could have, but you might have been waiting a whole lot longer than a few months.

The Machado-Harper effect

If after acquiring Realmuto, the Phillies lose out on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, they may still finish behind the Nationals in 2019. They would still have had one heck of an offseason, improving at catcher, shortstop, the corner outfield and bullpen, but it would feel incomplete without one of the superstars.

If the Phils can get Machado or Harper in addition to Realmuto, this might be the team to beat in the National League. It would be among the deepest lineups in all of baseball. With how few catchers can actually hit league-wide, there is unique value to having a catcher you can bat second, not eighth.

Think about this lineup for a minute ...

1. Jean Segura, SS
2. J.T. Realmuto, C
3. Manny Machado, 3B
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Andrew McCutchen, LF
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Nick Williams, RF
8. Pitcher
9. Cesar Hernandez, 2B

Insert mouth-wide-open emoji.

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Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

The Phillies are about to sign a player with a resume chock-full of impressive — and important — accomplishments.

According to sources, Matt Szczur, the 30-year-old outfielder from South Jersey, has agreed to sign a minor-league contract with the Phils. The deal will include an invite to major-league spring training camp.

Szczur — pronounced SEE-zur — has spent parts of five seasons in the majors with the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. He is a product of Lower Cape May Regional High School and Villanova University. He was a two-sport star at Villanova.

On the football field, Szczur was a dynamic receiver and return specialist for Villanova’s 2009 NCAA FCS national championship team. He racked up 270 all-purpose yards in the title game win over Montana and was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

On the baseball field, Szczur was an all-Big East player and a fifth-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2010. He played in 107 games for the Cubs team that won the World Series in 2016.

Szczur’s accomplishments extend beyond the playing field.

Off the field, he did something extraordinary when he took time off from his junior year baseball season at Villanova in 2010 to donate bone marrow that ultimately helped save the life of a young girl from Ukraine who had battled leukemia. Szczur’s life-saving gift started with his involvement in the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation. Talley was Szczur’s football coach at Villanova. Szczur has subsequently started his own charitable enterprise, the Szcz The Day Foundation.

Szczur hit .259 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 185 at-bats for the World Series champion Cubs in 2016. He was traded to San Diego in 2017. He spent parts of that season and the 2018 season in the majors with that club. He signed a minor-league deal with Arizona last season and hit .322 with eight homers, 28 RBIs and a .967 OPS in 44 games at Triple A Reno. His season was shortened by a quad injury.

The Phillies are set at the corner outfield spots with Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and Adam Haseley is going to get a chance to hold down the center field spot with Roman Quinn in the picture as well. Szczur will give the Phillies some outfield depth and his ability to play center field is a plus. He is an excellent defender at all three outfield positions and could push for a spot on the big club as active rosters will expand from 25 to 26 men in 2020.

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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.

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