Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.
Today, we look at the market for backup catchers, which includes an obvious fit in longtime Yankee Austin Romine.
The 2020 Phillies need a better backup catcher, period. If they want to avoid late-season fatigue or wear-and-tear for J.T. Realmuto — arguably their most important player — then they need to raise the floor and ceiling of the catcher making the other 35 starts.
"I want the guy healthy in October because that’s where the prize is," Joe Girardi said of Realmuto the day he was introduced as Phillies manager.
The gap between Realmuto and Andrew Knapp is far too vast. The gap will be vast between Realmuto and practically any other catcher alive, but the Phillies need at least serviceable production if anything happens to their stud backstop.
Austin Romine may be just the guy. He has spent the last four seasons as the Yankees' backup catcher and been solid in the role both offensively and defensively. It seemed like every time in 2018 or 2019 that Gary Sanchez was either injured or struggling, Romine stepped in and produced. Word out of New York is that they could entrust that spot to 29-year-old Kyle Highashioka coming off his strong offensive season at Triple A.
The last two seasons were the 31-year-old Romine's best — he hit .262/.302/.428 in 505 plate appearances.
Over that same span, Knapp hit .204/.305/.319. Same OBP, significantly worse contact.
Knapp has an option remaining. The Phillies could sign a better backup while optioning Knapp to Triple A and keeping him in the organization in case of injury. Remember, too, that MLB is going to 26-man rosters all season in 2020 and some teams may use that extra spot on a third catcher.
“He’s a really strong and influential guy in the clubhouse," Matt Klentak said of Knapp two weeks ago at the GM Meetings. "He’s very close to his teammates, he’s a leader in the clubhouse, and that’s another thing we have to make sure we appreciate with whatever decision we make. I think the pairing of Realmuto and Knapp is generally pretty good and can continue to be, particularly with the 26th man, which is likely going to add another bat off the bench and limit the number of pinch-hitting opportunities for the backup catcher.”
Adding Romine would make sense for the Phillies beyond the obvious Girardi connection.
Russell Martin and Martin Maldonado are other options, though they may still be able to find more playing time elsewhere.
One other name to keep in mind: Jonathan Lucroy. The 33-year-old is nearing the finish line. He was released by the Angels in August, signed with the Cubs three days later and hit just .189 in 60 plate appearances down the stretch. Still, he has the capability to be a good backup.
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