The Phillies currently have 12 players on their 40-man roster “in flux”. There are four outright free agents, six arbitration eligible players, and a pair of players with options. We will review each of the 12 players starting today, reviewing the case to either re-sign the player, the case to release the player, and the final verdict of what the Phillies should do for the 2015 season.
On December 5, 2013, the Phillies signed then-36-year old career back-up catcher Wil Nieves to a $1.125 million deal, two days after trading Erik Kratz to Toronto with Rob Rasmussen for reliever Brad Lincoln. Kratz has played well in a very small sample after Kansas City acquired him in July. Nieves didn’t do so bad, either. In 36 games, Nieves hit .254/.270/.344 with a homer but missed a substantial chunk of the season with a quad injury.
The Case For
Nieves, now 37, posted positive value (0.2 fWAR) for the Phillies in 2014, based mostly on their interpretation of his defensive skills. While other outlets, like Stat Corner, view Nieves’ defense, specifically, pitch framing ability as more neutral in 2014 in a small sample, Nieves carries with him a reputation as a strong defensive catcher.
Additionally, Nieves will likely again be able to be had for $1 million or so which isn’t an exorbitant price price for a back-up catcher, particularly one that is familiar with the pitching staff.
The Case Against
First, the obvious: Nieves is 37 and is coming off a series of quad injuries that slowed him down throughout 2014. Second, the other elephant in the room: Nieves isn’t much of a hitter and the Phillies have a slightly better hitter in Cameron Rupp, now 26, in sort of a Quad-A role with a decision needed whether or not he is their back-up catcher of the future after an injury-filled season in Triple-A. Finally, there are a number of intriguing buy-low options that are available: Geovany Soto, Ryan Doumit, John Buck, and J.P. Arencibia.
This one is actually kind of tough. Depending on how the back-up catcher market shakes down, you could do worse than Nieves as your back-up backstop for a cool million. Rupp struggled pretty mightily in 2014 but was playing through injuries. I would view Nieves as a late offseason insurance policy if he is still available in February.