Wilson Ramos

Phillies trade rumors: Francisco Cervelli such a good fit for Phils

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Phillies trade rumors: Francisco Cervelli such a good fit for Phils

He doesn't offer nearly the offensive upside of Wilson Ramos, but there's another veteran catcher out there who could be an even better fit for the Phillies to complement Jorge Alfaro on a short-term deal.

Pittsburgh's Francisco Cervelli.

The Pirates are "open to dealing" Cervelli, according to Yahoo's Jeff Passan

Cervelli has one year left under contract at $11.5 million. He is a great fit for the Phillies, based on both his contract and skill set. The Phillies really like Alfaro and with a move like this, they wouldn't be committing multiple years to a vet. It would, for one year, give the Phillies a 1-B if Alfaro is regarded as the 1-A. 

The Phillies will likely place a call about Cervelli. His most valuable skills — plate selection, pitch-framing, defense behind the plate — are three things the Phillies covet and need. This is an organization obsessed with pitch-framing, and Cervelli has long been one of baseball's best in that category. 

Alfaro graded out well in framing in 2018, but there is no doubt that, far too often, catching the ball perfectly affected his ability to catch it cleanly. Alfaro will grow and improve in that regard, but Cervelli gives you the framing skills without the passed balls and wild pitches. Cervelli is also well-above-average in nabbing base-stealers.

Offensively, Cervelli does not have Ramos' power, but he's in the top-three among catchers in on-base percentage year after year. Cervelli's OBPs the last six years:

2013 — .377
2014 — .370
2015 — .370
2016 — .377
2017 — .342
2018 — .378

He walks, he doesn't strike out much, and he hits a ton of singles. Cervelli is the kind of player you want batting with a man on third and less than two outs because you know he's going to put the ball in play. In those exact situations this past season, he succeeded in 16 of 18 chances, either driving in the run, walking or being hit by a pitch.

He was also excellent with runners in scoring position in 2018, hitting .302/.383/.563. 

Cervelli makes a lot of sense for the Phillies, checks off a lot of boxes. The one-year length of the deal — which offers the possibility of a reunion if things work out but leaves you unscathed if it doesn't — only adds to the appeal.

Beyond all of that, Cervelli is a leader, the kind of high-energy, enthusiastic player who will always be the first to stick up for a teammate or put his arm around a strugging player. The Phillies could use that, too.

A soon-to-be 33-year-old with an eight-figure salary in a market well-stocked with catchers, Cervelli won't command a huge return in a trade. Think more along the lines of lottery ticket than Top 10 prospect.

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Phillies' chances of re-signing Wilson Ramos increased this week

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Phillies' chances of re-signing Wilson Ramos increased this week

Overshadowed by the James Paxton trade was the Nationals' signing Monday of catcher Kurt Suzuki to a two-year, $10 million contract — his second stint in Washington.

Suzuki leaves Atlanta, where he had the two best seasons of his career, hitting .276/.341/.485 with averages of 16 homers and 50 RBI in just 348 plate appearances. In 2017, four of his 19 homers came in 10 games against the Phillies.

Aside from the NL East change of scenery, what does this have to do with the Phillies?

It helps the cause in re-signing Wilson Ramos, if the Phils are indeed as interested as they should be. 

Ramos spent seven seasons with the Nationals, and the Nats tried in 2018 to reacquire him before the Phillies did. Had they not inked Suzuki, they likely would have again explored a reunion with Ramos.

Yasmani Grandal, because he is a year younger than Ramos and has less of an injury history, is viewed as the top free-agent catcher, even after the ugly postseason. However, Grandal declined the $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers, meaning the team that signs him will forfeit a high draft pick — either a pick preceding or following the second round, based on the signing team's revenues and market size.

That is meaningful. It could make a catching-needy team think twice about prioritizing Grandal over Ramos.

The teams that stick out in the race for catching — i.e. Grandal or Ramos — are the Phillies, Braves, Mets, Rockies, Red Sox, Astros, Angels and Twins. Removing the Nationals from the equation helps. 

The Phillies could, perhaps unrealistically, talk themselves into thinking they don't need Ramos in 2019, that they're seeing enough improvement from Jorge Alfaro. Many inside the Phils' organization remain high on Alfaro because of things like exit velocity, arm strength and pitch-framing. But there is obviously so much more that goes into being a productive major-league catcher. Alfaro in 2018 struggled in all phases of receiving other than framing. He struggled to block balls, and in some befuddling moments struggled to catch strikes. He also has struck out nine times more than he's walked as a major-leaguer.

Could Alfaro be a productive catcher if he fixes a few major deficiencies? Sure. Will that happen in 2019, which figures to be a win-now year for the Phillies? Tough to bank on.

If the Phillies feel comfortable with where Ramos is physically, they should bring him back on a two- or three-year deal. They may have to slightly overpay to get a deal done quickly, but it's worth it at a position that offers as little offense leaguewide as catcher. It probably makes more sense for Ramos to go to the AL, where he can be preserved as a designated hitter at times, but 31-year-olds eying their last big payday tend to follow the money.

When Ramos was actually able to bat in the middle of the Phillies' order in the second half of 2018, he was awesome. He hit .337/.396/.483 with 10 extra-base hits and 10 walks and 101 plate appearances. 

Even if the Phillies make the big Bryce Harper splash, it would still be nice to have Ramos in the five- or six-hole.

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Seidman's 5-point Phillies offseason plan: Bryce Harper, Zach Britton and a trade

Seidman's 5-point Phillies offseason plan: Bryce Harper, Zach Britton and a trade

It would take more than Bryce Harper for the Phillies to make up the gap between 80 wins and playoff contention in 2019. Harper alone would add a handful of wins, but if he does come aboard, the Phils will still have work to do before or after that signing.

Here's my (realistically) ideal offseason:

Sign Bryce Harper for 9 years, $360 million

It's $40 million a year. It's more total money than Giancarlo Stanton got and it's $15 million more per year.

For the Phillies, this would accomplish the goal of giving Harper and Scott Boras what they're seeking, while also avoiding a 14-year contract. 

If the Phillies were to get Harper on a nine-year deal, they'd avoid paying him $40 million or so after the age of 35.

Sign Zach Britton

Boom, there's your late-inning lefty to pair with Seranthony Dominguez and an experienced closer should Dominguez falter in that role at any point.

Britton would offer a unique look, as a lefty with a power sinker. Going from Pat Neshek to Dominguez to Britton would offer the opponent three completely different styles and repertoires in innings 7-9. The Phillies would lock down plenty of leads.

Sign J.A. Happ

I'm not big on paying Patrick Corbin more than $100 million. Nor do I love the idea of trading good young players for the injury-prone James Paxton or Robbie Ray. There's no doubt that all three southpaws have a ton of talent and legit swing-and-miss stuff, but it's a risk. 

Paxton's career high is 160 innings. Ray walked 70 batters in 123⅔ innings in 2018, with an ERA a full run higher than the previous year.

If it's me, I'd rather give Happ a two-year, $30 million deal with a third-year vesting option. He's not as good as Paxton or Ray at their best, but Happ is more reliable, will cost less, and his last three years have been the best of his career. Since 2016, Happ is 47-21 with a 3.44 ERA in 88 starts, with 8.7 strikeouts per nine and 2.7 walks.

He'd fit well in this Phillies rotation.

Trade Maikel Franco to Padres for Craig Stammen, Robbie Erlin and a prospect

The Padres are interested in Franco, according to teammate Jim Salisbury. But it's hard for me to see San Diego parting with Kirby Yates, who had a 2.14 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 63 innings as a setup man and closer last season. Yates is also cost-controlled for a low price. From a Phillies perspective, Yates seems like an overly optimistic return.

Stammen and Erlin could both help the Phillies' pitching staff, though. Stammen, who you probably remember from his seven seasons with the Nationals, is coming off his best year. He had a 2.73 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 73 appearances, striking out 88 in 79 innings and allowing just three home runs.

Erlin, a lefty, made 39 appearances, 12 starts, and exhibited tremendous control, walking just 12 batters in 109 innings. He'd be an upgrade over Adam Morgan.

The Padres will also want to rid themselves of underperforming Wil Myers' contract, but there's no reason for the Phillies to assume his remaining $70 million unless it also gets them a valuable asset like Yates.

Sign Wilson Ramos

If Harper comes aboard, it would likely mean Rhys Hoskins moves back to first base and Carlos Santana plays more third base than anyone expected. 

If a Santana trade cannot be worked out, then the Phillies' outfield and infield would both be set. Where else is there to improve? Behind the plate.

Ramos and Yasmani Grandal are the top two catchers on the free-agent market. Both are coming off very good offensive years and both have question marks. For Ramos, it's health. For Grandal, it's the lasting impression of his defensive struggles in the playoffs.

But both players will get decent offers because offense behind the plate is at a premium. There just are not many catchers around the league who can hit. 

Ramos was awesome for the Phillies ... when he was able to play. The Phillies acquired him with 55 games left and he played 33, hitting .337/.396/.483 with 10 extra-base hits and 10 walks in 101 plate appearances.

The Phillies, as his most recent team, should know more about Ramos' health than any other club. If they feel comfortable he can reach 400-plus plate appearances again in 2019, they should bring him back. They can enjoy Jorge Alfaro's pitch-framing all they want, but Alfaro does not and will never offer the offensive consistency of Ramos, who at 31 should still have at least two more good years in him.

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