Phillies

What it could take for Phillies to re-sign Wilson Ramos

What it could take for Phillies to re-sign Wilson Ramos

A week into his Phillies career, this fan base has warmed to Wilson Ramos to the point that many are wondering whether they'll try to keep him around past this season.

This question started pouring in the morning after Ramos' historic, 3-extra-base-hit, 3-RBI debut.

Will they? Should they?

Ramos' last contract

Ramos, who turned 31 on Aug. 10, is a free agent after the season. He'll be coming off a two-year, $12.5 million contract that paid him approximately $8.5 million in 2018.

He signed that deal with the Rays after his All-Star 2016 season with the Nationals, when he hit .307 with an .850 OPS, 22 homers and 80 RBI.

If you're wondering why an All-Star catcher signed such a relatively inexpensive deal, it's because he tore his ACL on Sept. 26 of that 2016 season. Tampa Bay knew it wouldn't have him until late in 2017. The Rays went in essentially paying that $12.5 million for 1½ seasons of Ramos.

That figure is necessary to look back to as an idea of what Ramos will and should be looking for this time around.

Ramos has only built upon his résumé since signing that deal. Over the last three seasons, he has the second-highest batting average (.296) and OPS (.828) among catchers, and that's despite 224 below-average plate appearances when he came back from injury last summer.

The free-agent landscape

Barring a serious injury, Ramos will not just be the top catcher on the free-agent market, he'll be one of the top hitters, period. There's the Bryce Harper-Manny Machado tier, and then the group that includes Ramos, Nelson Cruz and Daniel Murphy.

Powerful, switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal is also a free agent but it seems unlikely the Dodgers let him get away, which means every team looking to upgrade behind the plate will be placing a call to Ramos' agent.

Comparable deals

In December 2013, the Yankees signed a then-29-year-old Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract.

In November 2014, the Blue Jays signed a then-31-year-old Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract.

Neither deal has gone as planned. And, as we saw last offseason, the free-agent landscape has changed. When it comes to these lengthy, high-priced contracts, teams are more reluctant now than they were over the last decade. Carlos Santana's $60 million deal was the fourth-largest for a position player this past offseason.

A better template for a deal is the one signed by Francisco Cervelli in May of 2016, a three-year, $31 million extension with the Pirates. Cervelli was the same age. Ramos is a superior player so he will make a higher annual salary.

Something in the three-year, $48 million vicinity seems realistic for Ramos. If the Phillies frontload the contract, perhaps they can get Ramos to agree to make the third year of the deal a mutual option with a buyout.

The Phillies have plenty of money to spend. The issue is, if the free-agent negotiations for Machado and Harper take weeks or longer, another team could swoop in and sign Ramos. So if the Phillies do prioritize bringing him back, they'd have to have these negotiations separately and irrespective of each other and be willing to spend on Ramos even without knowing whether they'll also land a bigger fish.

What about Alfaro?

While the Phillies were supposed to be better in 2018 than they were in 2017, they went into this year looking to learn about many of their young players. It was why Jorge Alfaro was the starting catcher and why the Phillies felt comfortable carrying two young catchers together.

Alfaro has shown flashes of power at the plate and athleticism defensively and on the bases. He's also swung-and-missed at a higher rate than anyone in the majors and struck out at a higher rate than anyone in the majors. Alfaro's punched out 120 times in 322 plate appearances. He's struck out 9 percent more often this season than Ryan Howard did in his career.

Alfaro is out of options, so his fate here is either as the starting catcher or backup. If wins and losses didn't matter for the 2018 Phillies, he would have continued to be their No. 1. But the Phillies arrived earlier than expected and are contending in late-August, so you have to go with the players that give you the best chance to win on a daily basis. It's why Asdrubal Cabrera became the regular shortstop over Scott Kingery and why Ramos will play two-thirds of the remaining games, if not a bit more.

So ... should they re-sign Ramos?

Signing Ramos to a two- or three-year deal would not permanently stunt Alfaro's growth. It would give Alfaro time to develop in the majors as a backup, to learn the little nuances from Ramos and focus on making more contact. On Friday night, Alfaro had a two-strike, broken bat bloop single off Noah Syndergaard to score a runner from third with less than two outs. Those are the kinds of ABs he needs to keep having, because if you're a National League team with a whiff-prone eight-hole hitter, you're essentially giving the opposing team two outs at the bottom of the order.

Gabe Kapler said this week that Ramos' stoicism has stood out and that Alfaro can learn from the veteran's mannerisms both behind the plate and during mound visits. He compared Ramos' impact on a young catcher to Jake Arrieta's on a young pitcher.

"He's almost stoic," Kapler said. "That's an important quality for a catcher to have. Pitchers want to be inspired, but they also want to calmed down."

Let's be real, though, if the Phillies do open the checkbook to re-sign Ramos, it will be because of his bat. That calming veteran presence is an added bonus.

Re-upping (a healthy) Ramos would be a logical move for a team in the Phillies' position — an ascending National League contender with offensive needs and young pitchers. There's no reason they should let him get away, unless an aggressive spender comes over the top and offers five years.

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With so few options at back of rotation, where do Phillies turn?

With so few options at back of rotation, where do Phillies turn?

ATLANTA — A one-sentence summary of the Phillies' series finale Sunday against the Braves? Sean Rodriguez was by far their best pitcher.

The Phillies were blown out, 15-1, in a game when they used an opener for the second time this season (see observations). Gabe Kapler told Vince Velasquez late Saturday night that he would get the "start," and the plan was to ride Velasquez for 50 to 60 pitches before turning to lefty Cole Irvin.

Velasquez, Irvin, Jerad Eickhoff, none of them came close to getting the job done. All three allowed consistently hard, loud contact. The Braves had nine extra-base hits and three more deep fly balls crushed to the warning track.

"We knew we were gonna bring Cole, we knew we had length out of Jerad and thought we could get 50 to 60 pitches out of Vince," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We did all those things, we just didn't do it effectively."

It was ugly from start to finish, and it again highlighted the Phillies' need to go get a starting pitcher right now. Not on July 10, not on July 20, not on July 31 but now. You can't force another team to trade with you, but let's forget for a minute about the top end of the market, the tier of Matt Boyd, Mike Minor, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke. The Phillies just need another reliable arm that can give them six innings, get through a lineup three times. Maybe that arm comes from the minor-league system.

While it's true that most teams have a shaky fifth starter, most teams also have a few trustworthy arms ahead of them in the rotation. The Phillies do not right now. Aaron Nola has a 4.89 ERA. Jake Arrieta has a 4.31 ERA. Nick Pivetta is trending in the right direction, and Zach Eflin has been very good for much of the season, but this quartet has not collectively performed like a playoff rotation.

One thing looks abundantly clear, though: The Phillies cannot continue with the opener experiment with this personnel. Velasquez doesn't have the command, Irvin and Eickhoff don't have the stuff to keep the Phillies in the game against a lineup as potent as the Braves'.

What happens Friday when this rotation spot comes up again?

"We have a lot of work to do, a lot of discussions to have," Kapler said. "No question about it, we have to be better and we'll discuss it more on the flight to Washington, D.C., and get our ducks in a row.

"We haven't pitched our best recently. I think that we have a better level of play in us in totality and I have trust in our starting pitchers — Nick, Jake, Nola, obviously Eflin has been outstanding. We have a group of guys who have a track record of success and Nick has been sensational since he's back from the minor leagues. There's some confidence there."

The Phils clearly don't have a ton of confidence in Velasquez, Irvin or Eickhoff as starting pitchers or else one of them would have the No. 5 starter's job. Actions always speak louder than words.

Irvin's ERA is 6.84, Eickhoff has allowed 18 home runs in his last 28 innings, and Velasquez hasn't been able to take his team deep into games.

Who is next? Ranger Suarez? Enyel De Los Santos? Ramon Rosso? Adonis Medina? The decision won't be made for several days.

"I think we'll rebound from this with ease," Velasquez said. "I think it's just one of those games where these guys are hot and we've got to tip our caps off to them and keep moving forward. 

"They had a solid month, and we're right on their tails. I don't think it's one of those things where we should necessarily give up as a pitching staff or as an offensive team."

The Braves have been the hottest team in the NL, winning 24 of their last 34 games. And Velasquez does have a point — as well as Atlanta has played of late, as many injuries as the Phillies have, the deficit is only 2½ games. They can make that up in a series. 

But to do so, they need the starting staff to carry them for a bit. It hasn't been able to the way it was the first half of 2018. With so many key relievers injured, with Andrew McCutchen out for the season and Jay Bruce and J.T. Realmuto banged up, that is the unit that must step up. 

Can they do it? Can they keep the Phillies in the game against Patrick Corbin Monday, Max Scherzer Wednesday and Stephen Strasburg Thursday? If not, the gap between the Phillies and the Braves will only grow wider.

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Braves 15, Phillies 1: Braves demolish Phillies, who badly need another SP

Braves 15, Phillies 1: Braves demolish Phillies, who badly need another SP

BOX SCORE 

ATLANTA — The Phillies' need for another starting pitcher has not been more glaring than it was Sunday afternoon in a totally embarrassing 15-1 loss to the Braves.

With no fifth starter currently on the Phillies' roster, Gabe Kapler went with Vince Velasquez as an opener in Sunday's series finale and it did not work.

Velasquez hit Ronald Acuña Jr. on an 0-2 pitch to begin the game, before Dansby Swanson singled and Freddie Freeman hit a two-run double. In all, Velasquez allowed four runs in 2⅓ innings before giving way to Cole Irvin.

Irvin didn't fare any better, giving up a long two-run homer to the second batter he faced, Josh Donaldson, then giving up loud contact the next few frames. Irvin gave up six runs in 3⅔ innings as the Braves built an eight-run lead that only grew and grew.

Jerad Eickhoff, formerly the No. 5 starter, entered next and allowed two more home runs. Eickhoff has been taken deep an astonishing 18 times in his last 28 innings.

The Phillies didn't hit, didn't play good defense and definitely didn't pitch well.

They need to quickly figure out the back of this rotation. Granted, the next time the fifth spot in the rotation comes up is against the lowly Marlins Friday at Citizens Bank Park, but the league just isn't being fooled by Velasquez, Irvin or Eickhoff.

Other options would be Enyel De Los Santos, Ranger Suarez or a pitching prospect like Adonis Medina, who is on the 40-man roster and is on a nice little roll at Double A Reading, going 5-0 with a 1.24 ERA over his last five starts.

The Phillies are 39-32 and 2½ games behind the Braves in the NL East. The Braves are 24-10 in their last 34 games, six games better than the Phillies over that span.

The Phils have lost 10 of their last 16.

Down two starters

The Phillies were without starting catcher J.T. Realmuto and leftfielder Jay Bruce in this one. Realmuto exited Saturday's game after taking a foul ball to the groin and Bruce left with hamstring tightness. Both are day to day and will avoid the injured list. 

It's possible one or both are back in the lineup Monday, though it could be Tuesday.

This is what a deep lineup looks like

Back when the Phillies had Andrew McCutchen and there was still hope/optimism about Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, they had what looked like one of baseball's deepest lineups. That is no longer the case. On Sunday, the Phils' 5-through-8 hitters were Cesar Hernandez, Nick Williams, Franco and Andrew Knapp. Not going to scare anyone.

The Braves just have a much better lineup. In order:

1) Acuña Jr. is a beast. 

2) Swanson has an OPS over .800.

3) Freeman is one of the two best hitters in the National League. 

4) Donaldson is a former MVP and a dangerous right-handed bat that is starting to get hot. 

5) Nick Markakis is a clutch left-handed hitter who rarely strikes out. 

6) Austin Riley will be in the Rookie of the Year conversation and might win it.

7) Ozzie Albies has blazing speed and at .281, has a higher batting average than every Phillies starter except Scott Kingery.

It helps that the Braves have had eight fewer injuries than the Phillies, none to their current starting lineup. But the gap in offenses right now is impossible to overlook.

Up next

The Phillies are in D.C. to play four games against the Nationals, who are 9-5 in June. The Phils will face all three of the Nationals' top starting pitching trio.

All four games are at 7:05 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Monday: Jake Arrieta (6-5, 4.31) vs. LHP Patrick Corbin (5-5, 4.11)

Tuesday: Zach Eflin (6-6, 2.81) vs. Erick Fedde (1-1, 3.68)

Wednesday: Nick Pivetta (4-1, 5.00) vs. Max Scherzer (5-5, 2.81)

Thursday: Aaron Nola (6-1, 4.89) vs. Stephen Strasburg (7-4, 3.75)

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