Phillies Mailbag: Knapp, Trading Howard, Free Agents
It is time once again for a Phillies 97.3 ESPN Monday Mailbag. We take your questions every Monday and then we talk about them during the Sports Bash with Mike Gill on Tuesday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. If you are not in South Jersey, you can listen online at 973espn.com.
Does Cameron Rupp feel any pressure from Knapp coming up to take his job? Knapp is putting up good numbers in minors.
Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is having a very nice year at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Knapp has been pretty consistent, leveling out about .267 after a slow start and strong period after the slow start. I really think that Knapp is headed for Philadelphia before the season ends. I think this happens if Carlos Ruiz or when rosters expand in September. But either way, I am not sure Cameron Rupp is the definite starter on this team.
Rupp has done as nice job as the Phillies catcher, but the job long-term may not be his. Rupp has his moments: he hits for power at times and generally is seen as a decent backstop. However, I am not sure his play is enough to have the Phillies start trading catchers. As we saw when Rupp got hit in the head the other day, it is an important position and the team could lose a catcher in an instant.
Luckily for the Phillies, 2016 is the second year in a row in which the Phillies did not need to put a catcher on the disabled list. That is very impressive, given the high physical demand of the position. That is extra lucky because J.P. Arencibia asked for his release to become a free agent and I would have considered Knapp as not ready.
Knapp has a real chance to be a Phillies catcher in 2017. Knapp probably has to play his way into being the starter; I would think Rupp would enter 2017 as the starter. The switch-hitting Knapp may get to play more against right-handed pitchers and could work his way into a starting role.
But, do not forget about Jorge Alfaro. The Phillies are highest on him of their catchers, and he could quickly move through Triple-A and into the Major Leagues once Knapp is out of his way.
What matters here is that the Phillies will let the talent rise to the top and those who play the best will play the most.
So I read a story/rumor referring to the Phillies taking feelers for Ryan Howard before the deadline. Really?
Yes, there was a report on Sunday from John Perrotto of Today's Knuckleball in which it said that the Phillies have gotten calls regarding the status of first baseman Ryan Howard. That seems pretty surprising, given Howard's batting average in 2016. However, teams may still want Howard as a left-handed power threat.
Teams calling the Phillies are not looking for a starting first baseman. What they want is someone much like Matt Stairs was to the Phillies in 2008: someone who can serve as a left-handed pinch-hitter. Stairs rarely played the field for the Phillies, and anyone who acquires Howard probably does not use him for defense either.
Keep in mind, though, just because a team makes the call to the Phillies does not necessarily mean that Howard is their first choice. At this point, teams might simply be making sure that the Phillies are willing to eat Howard's salary for the rest of the year, along with the $10 million buyout due at the end of the year. If the Phillies indicate that they are willing to do so, then an interested team could take note and come back later when they see who they can get.
Remember, the Toronto Blue Jays just took on Melvin Upton, Jr. Upton has not performed well for years and is batting just .256 this year. What Upton has going for him is 16 home runs. Howard has 14 home runs, with 13 of them coming against right-handed pitching. Whoever adds Howard is not obligated beyond this season. The acquiring team could try to use him for some power against right-handed pitching. If he does not work out, they do not need to even put him onto their postseason roster, let alone retain him beyond this year.
It could happen.
How could competing in 2016 for the Wild Card by signing quality free agents deter "rebuilding? Too many good players a problem?
The rebuilding Phillies signed just one Major League free agent this past offseason: reliever David Hernandez. The Phillies have plenty of money to spend ,and they did not really use too much of it. However, that does not necessarily mean that the Phillies are being cheap or purposely trying to tank. In order to rebuild, they need to see some players, and that means not tying up roster space and position space with free agents.
Looking at the Phillies roster heading into the season, there really were no positions where the team could place a free agent. Let's break it down by positions:
First base - Ryan Howard/Darin Ruf
Second base - Cesar Hernandez
Shortstop - Freddy Galvis
Third base - Maikel Franco
Looking at the infield, Franco and J.P. Crawford seem to have secured spots for the future. Galvis is sufficient to put at shortstop in 2016, which the ability to yield to Crawford when he is ready. That could still come this season. Besides there being no free agent first baseman that made sense on the 2016 free agent market, the Phillies were stuck paying Howard, and he was not really blocking anyone.
Luckily, the Phillies had first base available for when Tommy Joseph forced the Phillies to bring him up. Having a mediocre Free agent would have hindered them.
The Phillies ended up with unfortunate injuries to Asche and Altherr which changed this picture greatly. The Phillies really needed to see just how Asche and Altherr would do in starting roles to make decisions on their future. As the Phillies are seeing with Asche now, he is not really playing at a level necessary to claim a starting job. The Phillies can probably rule him out. Altherr will get his chance as soon as this week, and Herrera would be a starter, of course.
Asche, Altherr, and Herrera occupy all three starting positions, leaving no room for a free agent.
We all know that Alfaro and Knapp are waiting in the wings. This catching duo allows for one to be a September call-up, and does not block a position long-term.
The Phillies grabbed a couple veterans to help ease in the new young starters in the system. They lost Morton, of course, but Adam Morgan and Zach Eflin got opportunities. Jake Thompson will be next as soon as they move Hellickson. The Hellickson and Morton moves set up the chance to trade either, should they be working out. The Phillies will add more prospects.
The Phillies could have signed a free agent closer, but how many of them were available last offseason? I had wanted the Phillies to pick up Fernando Rodney but they did not. They instead loaded up on minor league free agents, hoping that one would work out. Andrew Bailey did, but Ernesto Frieri and Edward Mujica did not.
I think the Phillies played their hand very well last offseason. There is no sense of immediate gratification, but with ticket sales and ratings both heading north, it appears things are working out well. They have a base of young players and fans are getting excited.