Austin Romine

Phillies free-agent target: Austin Romine and other backup catchers

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Phillies free-agent target: Austin Romine and other backup catchers

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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Best of MLB: Brawls lead to 8 ejections in Tigers' win over Yankees

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Best of MLB: Brawls lead to 8 ejections in Tigers' win over Yankees

DETROIT -- Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera and Yankees catcher Austin Romine wrestled on the ground near home plate during the first of three bench-clearing altercations during the Tigers' testy 10-6 victory over New York on Thursday.

Five players were ejected, along with both managers and the Yankees' bench coach.

Justin Upton and James McCann homered for Detroit, and Gary Sanchez went deep for the Yankees, but that all became secondary on a day when the umpires had their hands full trying to maintain order. Major League Baseball figures to be busy now, sorting out likely suspensions that could especially hurt the playoff-contending Yankees.

The winning and losing pitchers -- Detroit's Alex Wilson (2-4) and New York's Dellin Betances (3-5) -- were among those ejected. Betances was tossed after hitting a batter in the helmet with a pitch, and argued with the umps.

The ill will carried over to the Detroit dugout, too, where star pitcher Justin Verlander and teammates Victor Martinez and Nicholas Castellanos got into some sort of dispute.

Shane Greene got five outs for his fourth save (see full recap).

Dodgers top Pirates for 90th win
PITTSBURGH -- Yasmani Grandal and Adrian Gonzalez hit back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning and the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled away from the Pittsburgh Pirates for a 5-2 victory Thursday, their 90th win of the season.

Grandal's 18th of the year gave the Dodgers a two-run lead. Gonzalez pushed it to three moments later with a shot to nearly the same spot in the right-field seats for his second of the season and 100th with Los Angeles. Curtis Granderson hit his 22nd home run of the season. Chris Taylor chipped in three hits and Kike Hernandez added two hits on his 26th birthday.

Hyun-Jin Ryu (5-6) held the Pirates to one run over six innings. Brandon Morrow worked the ninth for first save since 2009. Los Angeles improved to 90-36, becoming the 12th team in major league history to reach the 90-win plateau in 126 games (see full recap).

Valaika HR helps Rockies rally past Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Pat Valaika hit a two-run homer with two out in the eighth inning and Greg Holland finished for his 36th save in the Colorado Rockies' 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday.

Valaika snapped an 0-for-12 slide, driving a full-count pitch from Mike Minor (5-6) to left after Gerardo Parra singled.

Holland worked a perfect ninth. He allowed Eric Hosmer's game-ending, three run homer in the ninth inning Wednesday night and was 0-4 with three blown saves in his previous six appearances.

Adam Ottavino (2-3) struck out two in a perfect seventh.

The Rockies snapped a four-game losing streak with just their fifth victory in 17 games.

Rookie Jake Junis limited the Rockies to one run and seven hits over 5 1-3 innings. He matched his career high with seven strikeouts and walked one. The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA in three August starts, walking one and striking out 16 in 19 1-3 innings.

Whit Merrifield and Brandon Moss led off the Royals' first and second innings with home runs. It was Merrifield's third career leadoff home run, all this season, and his eighth hit in 15 at-bats. Moss hit his 17th home run, 14 of them with the bases empty (see full recap).