Opinion

Cameron Rupp: Offseason Trade Candidate?

cam ruppJorge Alfaro, the catcher acquired in the Cole Hamels super-trade of 2015, is finally getting his licks at the major league level.

Called up as an emergency in the wake of the Carlos Ruiz trade, then recalled a week ago for a formal opportunity, Alfaro has one hit in five plate appearances. He called a good game Wednesday, though he couldn’t corral a Michael Mariot wild pitch, and Jeanmar Gomez ultimately blew the lead. But it’s one game. Nothing Alfaro does in these final few weeks will determine anything about his major league future.

That said, it’s possible Alfaro will start the 2017 season with the Phillies and not Lehigh Valley or Reading. He hit well in 2016 for Reading (.285/.325/.458, 38 XBH in 435 PA) and made tremendous strides as a backstop. Unlike J.P. Crawford, from whom the Phillies may want more consistent contact, and turning 24 in 2017, Alfaro may be far enough along in development.

Then again, the Phillies could start Alfaro in Lehigh Valley and peg him for a midseason callup to avoid losing a year of team control (the Phillies would have to wait until mid-May to bring him up).

Either way, Alfaro looks destined to be on the Phillies in 2017, and once he’s there, he looks destined to start.

What does that mean for Cameron Rupp?

The current starting catcher is finishing a good season, currently in charge of a .259/.313/.459 triple slash, which plays for an everyday catcher. His 38 extra-base hits don’t hurt, either, and his 105 wRC+ ranks seventh among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances. Plus Rupp has turned in a decent defensive season, and his pitch framing is somewhere in the middle – depending on how much you consider statistics on pitch framing.

The soon-to-be-28-year-old would typically profile as a classic top-level backup catcher, but at a time when catchers aren’t necessarily hitting stars, Rupp could theoretically start for a number of teams.

Moreover, Rupp isn’t arbitration eligible until 2018. So, if a team wanted a cost-effective catcher with solid offensive skill – and the opportunity for slight growth – Rupp would be a beneficial pickup.

It would behoove the Phillies to entertain trading Rupp during the offseason. The free agent market at catcher isn’t particularly strong, especially if the Rangers exercise the club option on Jonathan Lucroy’s contract (it’s likely they would). Outside of Lucroy, top free agent catchers include Wilson Ramos, Jason Castro, Kurt Suzuki and Matt Wieters.

Ramos is sure to command the high-scale deal for the position and should receive a qualifying offer from the Nationals, meaning the potential loss of a first-round draft pick. That could scare off teams still building or needing the draft picks.

Castro and Suzuki (who has a vesting option for 2017) are good defensive catchers with less offensive skill than Rupp, but as veterans, they’d command more in free agency than the cost-controlled Rupp.

Wieters is interesting. The Orioles apparently won’t give him a qualifying offer (he took it last year, and the O’s haven’t seen substantial results), so the former future-best-catcher-in-baseball should hit the market. And he’s the kind of catcher a rebuilding team may nab because there’s a history of elite-level play for, possibly, a lower-scale contract.

Rupp fits in around Wieters; he should give you, at minimum, the kind of production Wieters is delivering today. But Rupp is likely to cost far less in 2017 than even a buy-low Wieters; moreover, Rupp probably won’t cost much until maybe 2020.

For a team seeking a new face at catcher at a discount price, Rupp could be the right choice. If the front office wanted to hold Alfaro in Lehigh Valley to start 2017, it could easily sign a veteran catcher or two (like current backup A.J. Ellis) to a one-year deal. The cost of two veteran catchers to start 2017 wouldn’t be much more than another year of Rupp.

But all depends on the return. Trading Rupp means receiving either a potential everyday player or mid-rotation pitcher, and possibly a secondary prospect.

Either way, seriously exploring a Cameron Rupp trade would be a wise move for the Phils’ front office this offseason.

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