Phillies Should Consider Trading for Their Catcher of the Future

Back in November, the Phillies signed catcher Carlos Ruiz to a three-year, $26 million contract with a fourth year club option for $4.5 million. Given the recent 25-year, $2.5 billion TV deal the Phillies just signed with Comcast SportsNet, the team won’t be hurt too much even if Ruiz provides little value on the contract over the duration of those three guaranteed years. Still, the Phillies should be preparing for Ruiz, soon to be 35 years old, to decline.

In fact, Ruiz has already shown signs of decline. Bothered by plantar fasciitis and a strained right hamstring, Ruiz posted an adjusted OPS of 90, his lowest mark since 2008. His walk rate dropped to a career-low five percent after being as high as 13 percent in 2010. His .100 ISO tied for his lowest mark over the last five years and his .291 BABIP was also his lowest since 2009, a result of consistently making weaker contact.

The Phillies’ two highest catching prospects are Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp. Joseph was bothered by a concussion and took just 131 trips to the plate in the Minors in 2013. There were rumors Joseph would have to switch from catcher to first base, but he appears committed to bouncing back behind the dish. In Eric Longenhagen’s scouting report, he grades Joseph as a 35 hitter with a 40 ceiling and passable defense. But a lot has to go right for him to earn a consistent job at the Major League level. He can start this season with a strong effort between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. If he plays well, he could earn a shot as a September call-up.

Rupp got a taste of the Majors as a September call-up last season, hitting .308 in 14 trips to the plate. In the Minors, he started at Double-A for the first time and eventually earned a promotion to Triple-A in mid-June, posting decent numbers at both levels. At Triple-A he struggled more, striking out 5.5 times for every one walk compared to less than three times for every one walk at Double-A. He has decent raw power, as Longenhagen discussed here last September, but the swinging and missing will siphon some of the value out of his bat. Like Joseph, he plays passable defense.

In both players, if everything goes right, we’re looking at capable back-up catchers in the 0.5-1.5 WAR range (think Jose Lobaton). If Ruiz stays healthy and productive, either or both of Rupp and Joseph would be nice to have on the roster. But in the more likely event that Ruiz succumbs to the effects of old age, the Phillies might be better off trading for their catcher of the future.

Last night, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the Astros may make Jason Castro available depending on the progress of catching prospect Max Stassi and the team’s ability to sign Castro to a contract extension. Castro, 26, is eligible for arbitration for the first time and can become a free agent after the 2016 season.

In his first season as the Astros’ full-time catcher, Castro put up a 4.5 WAR season with a .276/.350/.485 line, good for a .361 wOBA. He drew walks at a 10 percent clip and posted a .209 ISO, the second-highest mark among MLB catchers (min. 300 plate appearances), sandwiched between Evan Gattis and Brian McCann. His wOBA was fourth-best behind Joe Mauer, Carlos Santana, and Yadier Molina. According to scouting reports, Castro is a plus-defender as well, despite having trouble blocking pitches in the dirt.

Here are a couple of fun heat maps for Castro from the 2013 season:

If the Astros make Castro available, the Phillies should strongly consider trading for him, even if it costs them a top prospect like Maikel Franco and/or Jesse Biddle. Perhaps with the exception of J.P. Crawford, no one in the Phillies’ system projects to be as valuable as a Major Leaguer as Castro will be going forward. With the new TV deal, the Phillies should then be able to easily sign Castro to a contract extension at some point before the end of 2016, securing themselves a catcher of the future. Of course, Castro isn’t the only option, but he is a perfect example of the type of player the Phillies should be looking to acquire. Good catchers are very hard to find, especially when they’re relatively cheap and under team control for multiple years.

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38 comments

  1. Dante

    January 06, 2014 11:02 AM

    I was with you until you went for Castro as a solution. Why would they trade for a guy who would need to be the starter right away, when they just signed Ruiz for starter money for the next few years? This would be poor roster management and planning, but we’ve seen that before too.

  2. Bill Baer

    January 06, 2014 11:09 AM

    The money is irrelevant now. They can afford a $9 million/year back-up, especially if they add 2-3 WAR in production in years they will actually be able to contend.

  3. James K.

    January 06, 2014 11:18 AM

    Even if the money is irrelevant, Castro is a 26-year-old All-Star catcher. He has a lot of value.

    Wouldn’t you be able to get a minor league catcher who needs another year or two of grooming for much cheaper (prospect-wise)?

  4. Dante

    January 06, 2014 11:19 AM

    Bill, the money is not irrelevent, since they have put a self imposed cap on payroll, at least for the forseeable future (that could change when the TV deal is effective or the winning ways return). Also, Ruiz re-signed here with the understanding he’d be the starter, and if they trump him with another (admittedly better) player, it could cause issues – what kind of message does that send to prospective FAs if they would do that to “one of their own”? Again, this would be poor roster management, as a capable backup can be obtained for much less than 9 mil/yr. Like it or not, they have committed to Ruiz as their starter, which allows them to groom Joseph and Rupp. you are right – if Ruiz were to decline fast or get seriously hurt, they would be in trouble, but how is that different with any other spot on the roster? Its not like this org is oozing depth.

  5. Bill Baer

    January 06, 2014 11:22 AM

    Sunk money is sunk money. You are never committed to starting a player just because you’ve signed him to a contract — only if you take the viewpoint that salary should correlate with playing time.

  6. Dante

    January 06, 2014 11:31 AM

    Sure guaranteed money is set. However, less than 10 weeks ago the team determined this was The Guy, paid him top catcher money, and now they just kick him to the back burner? I’m not sure you’d want to explain the reasoning behind that to ownership or the clubhouse. Once again – this would be terrible roster management, tho not to the level of the Lee trade after the Halladay signing. Not to mention, there is a fair chance Ruiz is actually worth the contract.

  7. Bill Baer

    January 06, 2014 11:38 AM

    Oh, I think you’re misinterpreting what I suggested in the article. I’m not saying they should get Castro (or anyone else) now — the Astros won’t make him available until next off-season at the earliest, most likely.

  8. Dante

    January 06, 2014 11:40 AM

    That’s makes more sense, thanks. That’s why James K. above likely mentioned getting a prospect. Sure, he’d be an interesting piece if it looks like Ruiz isn’t returning to form and the C prospects you mentioned don’t take a step forward.

  9. Andrew R.

    January 06, 2014 12:12 PM

    I hear ya, Bill. But do you think Rube would give the Astros another one of our top prospects?

  10. awh

    January 06, 2014 12:28 PM

    If Castro isn’t an FA until after the 2016 season, then he becomes an FA at the same time Chooch’s deal expires.

    Even if they traded for Castro now, they could easily split the playing time with the two of them, and if Ruiz had a problem with it they could point to his injury history and the desire that they want to keep him rested.

    With each of them catching +/-80 games, you’d keep each one of them fresh, might extend Chooch’s career, and keep some of the wear and tear off of Castro until it’s time for him to step in and catch 120+ games.

    I actually like the idea, but the question is always what they’d have to give up to get him.

  11. Pencilfish

    January 06, 2014 02:16 PM

    Giving up Franco or Biddle would be a hard pill to swallow even for a good young catcher. We don’t know how Asche, MAG, Pettitbone, etc will perform in 2014, and KK is set to become a FA after 2014. Giving up pitching or infield depth for catching depth is not a clear winner. We might be better off offering guys like Galvis or Hernandez + a young RP instead.

  12. CarrierSailor

    January 06, 2014 02:36 PM

    Wake up they don’t have anyone to trade and trade for who ? This front office has never drafted anyone of value since Hamels why are they still here ?

  13. Ryan

    January 06, 2014 02:51 PM

    No one is going to take Galvis AND Hernandez and a young RP for a stud prospect.

  14. Pencilfish

    January 06, 2014 02:58 PM

    The question then is whether Biddle AND Franco are sufficient for a “stud” with a career .255/.332/.417 line, and whether this is a good trade from the Phillies perspective. Catcher is a premium position, but losing a potential power hitter in Franco should give people pause.

  15. Steve Kusheloff

    January 06, 2014 03:39 PM

    Trading Franco would be a big mistake. He is by far the best hitting prospect in the Phillies’ system, one of the best they’ve had for awhile. We need him to counter Amaro’s “pitching first” philosophy.

  16. MattWinks

    January 06, 2014 03:45 PM

    I would move Franco in a heartbeat for a young stud. My only question here is the premise of needing a catcher of the future. I don’t know if the marginal upgrade from Ruiz to Castro is worth a top prospect (I think both Castro’s BABIP and ISO are unsustainable given career levels making him more a 3-3.5 WAR player). That being said, if the deal is for a OFer or pitcher where the impact could be greater then it is more of a starter.

    Franco’s value will not be this high again unless he establishes himself at the major league level. While very good he has a ton of holes in his game.

  17. Bob

    January 06, 2014 07:02 PM

    The Phillies should not trade for a young catcher. For years, I heard that Valle was the catcher-in-waiting. Now, he’s not on the team.

    Then I was told that the Pence deal was a success because we got our catcher of the future in Joseph. This was followed by Rupp being lauded as an excellent receiver once Joseph got injured. Lastly, the Phils draft Knapp in the second round last year, plus we got that other catcher from the O’s in the Thome deal.

    In sum, I’m sick of all these catchers. We’ve invested so much time and money in this position. I’m ready to invest some time and money in a new infield and outfield and some starters. If we can pick up a defensive catcher, then I’m fine with it after all these misses.

  18. EricL

    January 06, 2014 08:46 PM

    Bob, there is perhaps a slight difference between a catching prospect at AA and a major league All Star. All “young catchers” are not cut of the same cloth.

  19. sweatingisnormal

    January 06, 2014 08:56 PM

    The whole trade dynamic is off. Philly will sell at the deadline if/when they are not contending. Philly will be moving vets (lee, pap, ruiz, rollins, adams, etc) for prospects and not prospects for a vet. Astros will be doing the same….

  20. Bob

    January 06, 2014 10:27 PM

    I realize that, Eric. I’m more concerned w/ the Phils ability to judge talent. They’ve had so many misses on catching prospects that I’m suspect on their ability to discern value at this position. I think that’s a fair point based on all their misses.

  21. derekcarstairs

    January 07, 2014 09:21 AM

    Since the Phils will not be competitive until 2016 or 2017, at the earliest, I would prefer that they acquire young players with several cost-control years still remaining in 2016 or 2017, not players entering free agency then. I would make an exception for a young player who is a star.

  22. Drew

    January 07, 2014 01:48 PM

    For the five years of Amaro’s tenure, the Phillies have accomplished less every single year than they did the year before. Given what we have seen so far this winter, one might expect a sixth such year in 2014 (65 wins in 2014?). Should we even be talking about trades of what passes for prospects in the Phillies system until we have a GM who knows what he is doing?

  23. joecatz

    January 07, 2014 02:27 PM

    If this was something they were considering they would have done it before resigning Ruiz.

    I get where you’re coming from Bill, but I also don’t see where trading assets for Jason Castro when you have a capable catcher who’s put up 2-8 to 4.5 bWAR in full seasons that is signed through 2016 guaranteed makes sense NOW.

    middle of next year? maybe.

  24. Phillie697

    January 07, 2014 02:35 PM

    @Pencilfish,

    I continually wonder why you think a 73-win team has anything worthwhile, and why you think just because Biddle and Franco are the best of a crappy farm system, that they should be valued at or close to what other top prospects are valued at. I would gladly trade our prospects for other, more worthy, prospects, because (1) I don’t have this irrational fear of “what happens if the prospects we trade away become good?” and (2) whether someone is a “top” prospects of any system is just a label, and I have no such emotional attachments to labels.

    Trading one lottery ticket for another is by definition a wash transaction, even if one week later the ticket you traded away turned out to be the winning ticket.

  25. joecatz

    January 07, 2014 05:23 PM

    what does being a 73 win team last year have to do with their farm system? equating a crappy on field product in 2013 to a crappy farm system makes no sense to me.

    teams are hording “prospects” like they were water in a drought filled apolcalypse right now. the reality of that actually makes guys like Biddle and Franco worth MORE right now than they may ever be worth mainly because no one else wants to sell anything of value.

    I have no issue dealing Franco or Biddle personally if it means being able to acquire cost controlled major league talent or true top line major league potential, but to make a trade like that for a 26 year old catcher coming off one good season with three years of control while you have a 3 win catcher under contract for the next three years seems like a redundant exercise to me.

  26. Bill Baer

    January 07, 2014 05:40 PM

    Joe, I think that, like Dante, you’re assuming I’m talking about trading now as opposed to next off-season or later, when the Astros will actually make Castro available. They need at least a season to how Max Stassi progresses.

  27. Joecatz

    January 07, 2014 05:45 PM

    Ahh… See that’s a little different situation Bill. I missed that.

  28. Phillie697

    January 07, 2014 06:41 PM

    @joecatz,

    Re-read what I said to Pencilfish. The fear of not being able to get something of equal or greater value in the trade market is not a reason not to at least explore the possibility of a trade. Otherwise, why have any trade discussions at all? No one is saying to trade Biddle or Franco for less than what they are worth, but let’s face it, world-class prospects they are not. No one, least of all me, have suggested in any way that we should trade them for the sake of trading them. What am I, RAJ?

    It’s one thing to make the observation that the trade market is tough right now, and another to suggest that somehow that tough market means we should not even consider trading Biddle or Franco, EVER.

  29. nick

    January 09, 2014 12:35 AM

    Good article but I am not trading Franco. Those numbers for a 20 year old are uncommon in AA. He could give you .290 with 25 HR a year . He just is not getting the hype yet. Compare Taveras AA age 20 season to Franco’s and you will see my point.

  30. Pencilfsh

    January 09, 2014 12:05 PM

    Phillie 697,

    It isn’t clear yet what and how much Biddle and Franco are worth, either to the Phillies or to other teams, since neither have played about AA yet, but because of the uncertainty surrounding Cody Asche and the lack of depth in the rotation, I say we keep them until a clear need outweighs their value to the Phillies. With Ruiz on a 3-yr deal, the need for a catcher for 2015 doesn’t exist unless Ruiz absolutely craters in 2014. Even then, I think you will be hard-pressed to argue persuasively that Castro represents a far greater improvement than Biddle+Franco in 2015, specially on a team that is not expected to contend for years.

    If you are correct, and Biddle and Franco are not worth much, then Castro won’t be traded to the Phillies anyway. The Astros will find much better return somewhere else. Why bother day-dreaming?

  31. Phillie697

    January 09, 2014 01:33 PM

    @Pencilfish,

    I didn’t say Biddle and Franco aren’t worth much; they are worth something, but let’s not treat them like they are Gerritt Cole and Miguel Sanos. The only difference between them and other prospects perceived to be worth the same as them is just that they are currently on the Phillies; that attribute alone to me means dick. With a team with as much financial resources, specific replacements from the minors on specific positions becomes less of an issue, as long as young talent continues to be churned out so as to create enough efficiency at the major league level so that we can throw dollars at positions we happen not to be able to find home-grown replacements. That’s the advantage we have as a rich team, so use it! I would never advocate not trading Biddle and Franco under any circumstance; you’re depriving yourself of the ability to get better, even in a marginal way.

  32. Pencilfsh

    January 09, 2014 05:01 PM

    Phillie697,

    I didn’t advocate never trading Biddle or Franco. You misunderstood. I said trading a promising young power hitter or a potential SP for a potentially good catcher is not a clear winner. We don’t know how Franco and Biddle will perform in AAA. What if they do really well in 2014? Do the Phillies have such depth at 3B and SP that we can offer them for a C, even if Ruiz tanks in 2014? Are you very confident in Asche holding 3B after 179 PA’s in 2013? If Joseph rebounds in 2014, why trade for Castro?

    The Phillies needs to improve significantly to compete in 2016 and beyond. If you are suggesting Castro for Biddle+Franco is a marginal improvement, the trade is pointless.

  33. Phillie697

    January 10, 2014 02:01 PM

    @Pencilfish,

    The problem with your “We don’t know how Franco and Biddle will perform in AAA. What if they do really well in 2014?” is that other prospects have potentials too, not just ours. What if the prospect we trade for does well? It goes both ways. This is why trades get made, otherwise what’s the point of discussing trades?

  34. Pencilfish

    January 11, 2014 10:28 PM

    Phillie697,

    We discuss trades when it is in the Phillies’ interest to do so. By the way, did you hear the news on Adam Morgan and Shane Watson? Both have (or will) have shoulder surgery and will lose significant time in 2014. Pitching depth is important, especially with a barren system like the Phillies, and trading Biddle doesn’t make sense in light of these injuries.

    Franco is a promising RH power hitter, probably the only one in the system. A team that scores ~600/season needs power hitters more than it needs a AS catcher.

    Then, there is this: Castro is a blossoming 26-yr catcher that makes sense (trade-wise) if a team is rebuilding, has many other young pieces and is projected to be competitive around 2016. While the Phillies may be in full-rebuild mode after 2014, it does not have good prospects if we trade Franco and Biddle, and the team doesn’t look it will be rebuilt AND competitive in 2016. Having Castro catch Hamels, Petitbone, MAG, Hernandez and maybe KK is like having a $50M closer on a 70-win team.

  35. Brian Cole

    January 12, 2014 11:23 AM

    While I agree the Phillies need to solidify their defense up the middle in the years to come with players who can also provide offense, I disagree with the opinion to offer Mikael Franco or Jesse Biddle.

    J.P. Crawford, Franco and Biddle should be withheld from any trades. I think the combination of their ceilings and cost-effectiveness are potentially worth more than a catcher whom is already on the verge of arbitration.

    Take the looming profits from the Comcast deal and include cash to eliminate the awful contracts to Papelbon & Howard, who still can be contributing major leaguers… but not at the prices Amaro negotiated.

  36. Phillie697

    January 14, 2014 02:46 PM

    @Pencilfish,

    While I agree with you in principle, if we’re talking about a 26-year-old Joe Mauer you would trade Biddle and Franco in a heartbeat, even though EVERYTHING you said about why we shouldn’t trade those two STILL applies in full force. My point is, everything is relative. Your hesitation in trading Biddle and Franco for Castro does not ride on those reasons you stated, but merely because you don’t think Castro is worth the trade. That’s all it is. I happen to agree with you, but I don’t think even Bill is suggesting that we trade BOTH of them for Castro and Castro alone (he used the and/or qualifier). I’m just saying those reasons you gave aren’t good reasons not to trade Biddle and Franco for the right pieces.

  37. Dennis Minuti

    January 18, 2014 04:27 PM

    Very good article Bill! Joseph Hernandez and player to be determined off 40 man roster for Castro.

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