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August 16, 2017

#PhilsQuestions: Alfaro, the free agent market, that big fish in Miami, and more

For the second time in three weeks, the Phillies are out on the west coast. Which means most of you aren’t staying up to watch games (if you’re still watching at this point of a last place team’s season anyway) because, well, sleep and work and all of that.

While you were sleeping in the last two nights, the Phillies dropped back-to-back games to the also not-great/rebuilding San Diego Padres. But there were positives, namely a combined four home runs from Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro (probably the two guys you’d pluck out of the last night’s lineup and expect to be around come 2019) and a somewhat competent start from Jerad Eickhoff (one earned run, great; five innings, bleh).

But this is probably how you’ve managed to keep your sanity as a Phillies fan in what’s looking like the second season in the last three years that they’ll finish with the worst record in baseball. When a team is this bad, you generally have a lot of questions and concerns.

This is where we come in, since it’s been a while since we last tackled a round of #PhilsQuestions. We asked for your #PhilsQuestions on Twitter on Tuesday, so, without further rambling, onto those Questions and Answers, too.

Let’s start with the most popular question at the moment, which came from two different people.

John Ryan (@johnryanakajr) asks: Why does (Pete Mackanin) play (Cameron) Rupp? Is it loyalty to his veterans or does he think Rupp gives him best chance to win? #PhilsQuestions

Matthew Osborne (@cniozzy) asks: Why isn’t (Jorge) Alfaro being treated like the starter to see what he has for a 43-73 team? Rupp has let them down #PhilsQuestions

So I tried to get ahead of this question over the weekend but I guess people (shockingly) didn’t read the story. And while I totally get fans wanting to see the young player over the veteran who has had plenty of chances to cement his status as an everyday catcher, I’ll explain again:

Jorge Alfaro is only on the big league roster out of necessity: Andrew Knapp is sidelined with a fracture in his right hand. Alfaro was the only other catcher on the 40-man roster.

Unlike, say, Rhys Hoskins, a prospect who was also promoted because of injury (he is playing square peg in round hole, a first baseman asked to learn left field while Aaron Altherr is sidelined), Alfaro didn’t earn a promotion with performance; he was promoted because he was the only other catcher (other than Rupp and Knapp) on the roster.

But, believe me, I hear you. He’s a top prospect, probably the biggest piece in the Cole Hamels’ return, and he has fun tools (a power bat, a Pudge Rodriguez arm). But, I can say all of that and also understand why Pete Mackanin is hesitant to play Alfaro: his defensive skills (other than the throwing arm) leave a lot to be desired, as coaches have been working with him for the last year-plus on providing pitchers with a steadier target behind home plate (he shifts around too much, during pitches) and his passed ball and throwing out runners numbers are near identical to Rupp’s this year.

And while defense is paramount at the catching position, it’s not like Alfaro (again, unlike Hoskins) was tearing it up at the plate at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Since June 1, Alfaro slashed .190/.267/.304 with 10 extra-base hits and 59 strikeouts in 158 at-bats over 43 games with the ‘Pigs. (For the sake of full disclosure, Rupp since June 1: .237/.315/.439 in 34 games).

But like you, I still think he should probably play more. And guess what – he is! Alfaro has started at catcher in three of the Phillies’ last five games. (Updated: OK, after I wrote that, Rupp started this afternoon’s game, but that’s to be expected, few catchers catch both ends of a night game followed by a day game after said night game).

There’s no reason to believe that trend won’t continue in the season’s final six weeks, as the coaching staff and front office take stock of their young players. But I also understood why Mackanin didn’t rush to plug Alfaro in every day initially when Knapp went on the DL.

Steve T. (@Trap_33) asks: So many questions where do I start? Dylan Cozens, September call up or no? #PhilsQuestions

This is tough because I want to say no. Why? Cozens is on the 40-man roster, but his numbers at Triple-A are largely underwhelming: .219/.306/.423, 23 home runs, 48 walks, 163 strikeouts. And those numbers haven’t been trending better lately. Since July 1: .179/.290/.299, five home runs, 18 walks, 64 strikeouts in 155 plate appearances.

But just like Alfaro arrived despite similarly unimpressive numbers, it’s still possibly Cozens could work his way to a September call-up. He still has a few weeks to finish strong in Allentown, but an even better path to the Phillies could be the health statuses of Odubel Herrera (he’s out for a second straight day with a hamstring injury) and Aaron Altherr (he’s on the disabled list with a hamstring injury).

If there’s an opening for someone to get regular at-bats, it’s possible that guy could be Cozens. I just wouldn’t bet on it given his lackluster numbers with the IronPigs this season.

Mike (@mikesadowsk22) asked: The young guys in the farm are promising but when do you think the Phillies make a run at top (free agent) if at all? #PhilsQuestions

I’ve written about this in a few different ways in the last couple of months, about how the Phillies could be players for a proven, top of the rotation pitcher, and also how they could be buyers ready to add a marquee name to the roster sooner rather than later, too.

I still believe both of those things could happen this winter. The Phillies' only payroll commitment heading into 2018 and beyond in Odubel Herrera’s team-friendly deal. They have more payroll flexibility than any big market team in baseball and they have real motivation (sagging attendance, baseball’s worst record for second time in three years) to add a box office draw to the roster.

But this year’s free agent class isn’t great (the winter of ’18-19 will be pretty fun, though). Still, the Phillies could add such a player this offseason through a trade.

Michael B. Toole (@mbtoole17) asks: Why wouldn’t the Phils have put in a claim for (Giancarlo) Stanton?

As you may have heard, Giancarlo Stanton was placed on and then cleared waivers and can be traded this month. Placing veteran players on waivers is standard operating procedure for every team in baseball this month, so this isn’t a strange occurrence … but it is newsworthy since Giancarlo Stanton trade rumors have persisted for some time now and Miami finally has new ownership in place and the incentive to move their best player’s burdensome contract. (Psst, that highlighted link is a story from this very space about three weeks ago about why the Stanton rumors, particularly those linking the Phillies, have been out there).

But, back to your question, Michael. The reason is simple: no one that acquires Stanton from the Marlins is going to have to take on all of that money. It’s why the Marlins want to trade a 27-year-old who could very well hit 60 home runs this year: because they don’t want to be saddled with the contract. Guess what? No one else does, either, and Miami will have to at least some money to facilitate a trade, particularly if they hope to get anything back in said trade, other than future payroll relief.

Think of it this way: the team that steps up and does take on a large portion of what Stanton is owed (which includes $244 million after his 30th birthday) is doing the Marlins a favor. As with the Phillies traded Cole Hamels two years ago, you can increase your return (read: better prospects) if you’re the Marlins if you eat some of the salary or take on a bad contract in return (in the Hamels example, the Phils paid down Hamels’ contract and took on Matt Harrison to get a better package of prospects in return).

So, the Phillies, like the 28 other teams, didn’t claim Stanton because they don’t have to. They could probably still get him through a salary dump trade but not at the current sticker price (he’s still owed roughly $300 million).

Chris Fried (@ChrisFried78) asks: #philsquestions What is most disappointing about 2017: Phillies record or lack of development in their top prospects?

First off, I’m a believer that a major league record matters very little for a rebuilding team. You’re rebuilding; losing is expected. Perhaps you wouldn’t like to see the win-loss total go backward, but I don’t think the dropoff has been as bad as the record indicates – the Phillies were awful lucky during the first half of last year in one-run games, and that luck went the other way in such contests this year.

Onto the development (or lack thereof) prospects. Here’s the thing: most prospects don’t make it. The attrition rate is high. This isn’t to quote-unquote defend the Phillies prospects, it’s to point out that this happens everywhere, with every team.

To make this point, I’m going to pick two of the Phillies division foes at random, look at their top 5 prospects according to Baseball America this past offseason, and see how those players are faring. 

Ready? Let’s go.


Rankings entering 2017 (according to Baseball America), plus their respective stats this season

New York Mets

  1. SS Amed Rosario – .328/.367/.466 at AAA, recently promoted to MLB
  2. 1B Dominic Smith – .330/.386/.519, 16 HR at AAA, recently promoted to MLB
  3. RHP Justin Dunn – 5-6, 5.00 ERA in 20 games at Class A
  4. Desmond Lindsay – .220/.327/.388 in 65 games at Low-A
  5. Brandon Nimmo – .227/.364/.368 at AAA, .242/.375/.273 in 25 games with Mets

Miami Marlins

  1. LHP Braxton Garrett – made four starts in Low-A before Tommy John surgery in June
  2. RHP Luis Castillo – traded to Reds, 3.39 ERA in 11 starts with Cincinnati
  3. RHP Tyler Kolek – returned from Tommy John surgery in July, 29.45 ERA in five games (14 walks, one strikeout)
  4. 3B Brian Anderson – .272/.356/.489 with 21 HR between AAA/AA
  5. LHP Dillon Peters – 5-3, 1.97 ERA in 11 G from Gulf Coast League/Low-A/Class-A/Double-A


  1. SS J.P. Crawford – .237/.346/.403, 13 HR in 107 games at AAA 
  2. OF Mickey Moniak – .246/.298/.351 in 108 games at Low-A
  3. C Jorge Alfaro – .241/.291/.358 in 84 games at AAA, .375 with a HR in 4 games with Phillies
  4. OF Nick Williams – .280/.328/.511 with 15 HR in 78 games at AAA, .293/.353/.500, five home runs in 38 games with Phillies
  5. RHP Sixto Sanchez – 5-5, 2.95 ERA,  0.91 WHIP, 71 strikeouts, 10 walks in 15 games between Low-A and Class A

The moral of the story? With prospects, it's almost always going to be a mixed bag. And, for what it’s worth, Rhys Hoskins was ranked sixth on BA’s Phillies Top 10 and Scott Kingery was ninth.

Mabel Rosenheck (@mabelrosenheck) asks: #philsquestions which current Phillie is most likely to go or to have been to @philamuseum?

I feel like maybe you know something I don’t know here, Mabel. But I’ll go with the Canadian-born Jesen Therrien, who speaks three languages and comes off as a bright, worldly kid. (And when you’re 40, yes, you can call the 24-year-old Therien a kid).

Nick Schaefer (@Nick_BPSS) asks: Who would win in a race, prime Phil Jackson or prime Phil Rizzuto? #PhilsQuestions

Clever. I see your two Phils and raise you two superior Phils.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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