Since we’re currently in CBA hell, I think it’s apt to bring up one of the biggest talking points of the current CBA negotiations: the universal DH. There are several Phillies on the roster who would slide nicely into this role, but none are more important than Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto.
I’d like to focus on Realmuto’s role, because we as a fan base are well aware of Hoskins’ defensive struggles. Tied in with Realmuto’s role is the most undervalued position in baseball (in my opinion), and a position of tremendous need for the 2022 Phillies:
The Backup Catcher
Backup Catcher is an area that crushed the Phillies last season, in the 64 games that J.T. didn’t start behind the plate. Outside of being a great locker room presence, Andrew Knapp could not put it together and was a total liability in the lineup. Rafael Marchan was given an opportunity to prove that he could carry the load at the ripe young age of 22 and showed that he has tremendous defensive abilities. Yet as the season carried on, Marchan couldn’t carry any momentum at the plate into the final months of the season, with only 1 hit in September and October.
Knapp has since moved on to Cincinnati, and the future is definitely bright for Marchan. Rumblings from the minors are also noting that Logan O’Hoppe, coming off a strong 2021, could push for some big-league playing time.
Before the lockout, the Phillies also added a relatively unknown Garrett Stubbs from Houston, as well as another young minor-league Donny Sands, who is coming off a pretty strong 2021 comparable to O’Hoppe. Even with these additions, backup catcher remains a major question mark for 2022.
How This Effects JT
The Phillies need to sure up that position if they want to contend. Realmuto is entering his age-31 season, with over 781 games and almost 6650 innings caught already. His biggest asset is his athleticism, and in order to keep him fresh until 2025 (end of his current contract), the Phillies are going to have to transition him to other positions (i.e. 1B, DH), leaving a platinum-glove-sized hole behind the plate.
Granted, I don’t think Realmuto needs to shift positions any time soon. I think he can continue his reign as one of the top catchers in baseball for 2-3 more years.
However, when the DH is inevitably brought to the National League, having Realmuto adopt a Salvador Perez role would be a phenomenal template to follow. Having spent his entire career with the DH in place, Perez has been able to split his games as a catcher and DH 10-to-1. This is especially exampled last year, when he started as a catcher in 120 games and a DH in 40.
If Realmuto can divvy his time between the plate and either DH or 1B to spell Hoskins, I think Realmuto can sustain his success well into his next contract with the Phillies, and make his almost $24 million at age 34 easier to take.
All that being said, what are the Phillies going to do behind J.T.?
Personally, I think Stubbs is a dart throw on a guy who has 77 at-bats in 3 years. He won’t be a factor for the future at 29 years old.
I would love to see a competition between the 3 young guns (Marchan, O’Hoppe, and Sands), to see who can withstand the pressure. I think Marchan has the slight edge, given he already has some MLB experience, but the ability at the plate of O’Hoppe and Sands do not eliminate them by any means.
If I were the Phillies, I would give the majority of the Spring Training reps to these guys, and see what they have to offer. If Marchan can develop his approach at the plate, he could have serious implications on the future as a catcher for the Phillies. Even still, a solid competition between the 3 of them could prove enough for trade pieces for other areas of need.
J.T. Realmuto is not going anywhere. He is the Phillies catcher until his body tells him otherwise.
Yet, in the preparation of the integration of DH, the Phillies need to be prepared for options at catcher, especially given the inadequacies of their past back-ups (sorry Knapp). I would love to see one of these young guys take a big step forward to grab the role, but we’ll have to wait to see what the Phillies have planned for them in the Spring.
Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire