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January 08, 2021

What are the Phillies options at catcher?

Phillies MLB
JT-Realmuto-Phillies_052219_usat Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto hits a solo home run during the tenth inning against the Chicago Cubs.

The Phillies have not appeared in the postseason for an entire decade. There are fourth graders all across the Delaware Valley who have never been alive for a playoff game at Citizens Bank Park.

And thanks to the Mets' recent wheelings and dealings, their drought — fifth longest of any major sports franchise currently — could continue. 

The Phillies' hated rivals to the north saw a change in ownership and a change in philosophy, as they have made the biggest splashes of the entire offseason so far, trading for stud shortstop Francisco Lindor and inking catcher James McCann. As a result, the Mets 2021 World Series odds have skyrocketed from +3300 to +1200, according to DraftKings via TheLines.com. The Phillies haven't budged from +3000.

New Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski has to do something soon to address his incomplete roster, and in an appearance on MLB Network Radio, he listed the Phillies' three main priorities right now: the bullpen, catching and shortstop.

So where do the Phillies currently stand at their three most vulnerable positions? What are their options?

We'll try and lay out all the facts for you, starting today with catcher.

Keep it in house

If the Phillies elect to do absolutely nothing else at catcher, they'll be giving the starting job, for the first time in his career, to Andrew Knapp, who has had two productive and impressive seasons in Philadelphia and two absolutely dreadful ones.

SeasonSlashK/BB
2017.257/.368/.36856/31
2018.198/.294/.31675/24
2019.213/.318/.32451/18
2020.278/.404/.44419/15


As is plainly obvious, Knapp in a backup role has been inconsistent, and it's unclear what kind of production they'll get from him if they promote him to an everyday player. The drop-off in power from Realmuto would be a big one too, as Knapp has combined through four seasons and 566 at bats to hit just 11 homers and 51 RBI. For comparison, J.T. Realmuto's 2019 alone saw him hit 25 homers and 83 RBI in 538 official at bats.

There are two other catchers on the Phillies right now, Rafael Marchan, a 21-year-old prospect with nine career MLB at bats, and journeyman Christian Bethancourt, who has a career .222 average over five MLB seasons. They'd compete for the backup role on a Realmuto-less roster.

Bring back J.T. Realmuto

Two offseasons ago, the Phillies gave up Jorge Alfaro and Sixto Sanchez to acquire J.T. Realmuto. As far as production goes, the swap appears to be one that has created two happy customers. Alfaro has been a solid MLB starter for the Marlins, and Sanchez has burst on the scene, using his diabolical fastball to actually start a playoff game for Miami this past season. However, there exists a chance that the Marlins run away as the longterm winners of this transaction.

If the Phillies are unable to make Realmuto anything more than a two-year rental, they'll have failed miserably. Realmuto is by any and every measure (both with his bat and with the glove) one of the two or three best catchers in the game right now. He is firmly in his prime, and is a free agent seeking to be paid what he's worth. The Phillies have yet to convince him to come back. Conflicting reports say his agent has been contacted, that an offer is on the table, and that there has been no negotiation

The longer this drags out, with spring training just over one month away, the more confusing it gets. Why isn't there a bidding war for an elite All-Star player at a valuable position? What are the Phillies waiting for? This signing should be priority No. 1, and is clearly the best option for the team both short- and longterm.

Sign a cheaper free agent

There is a lot of catching talent available aside from Realmuto, all of which would be a lot cheaper — and also a lot older (Realmuto is 30). Without any kind of true top catching prospect waiting in the wings, any signing aside from Realmuto would likely be a one-year stop-gap deal. Here are some options:

Player (age)Career WAR
Yadier Molina (38)40.4
Wilson Ramos (33)15.7
Jason Castro (34)11.9
Robinson Chirinos (37)12.4
Kurt Suzuki (37)20.3


There are a bevy of additional catchers available too, but they would just be "timeshare" players who would split time with Knapp. The above catchers have been great at times in their career but obviously they're all past their primes. Simply examining the alternatives makes the necessity to retain Realmuto even more abundantly clear. Realmuto's WAR in six full MLB seasons is 19.8, just under half of Molina's career number (40.4) — which has been amassed in 17 seasons of a hall of fame career.

Is a trade possible, if the Phillies fail to sign Realmuto and are uninterested in the veterans listed above? It always is — but it would obviously involve them giving up something by way of prospects in return. Catchers at one point rumored to be available via trade over the last few months include the Red Sox' Christian Vazquez, the Mariners' Austin Nola and Yankees' Gary Sanchez.

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