As J.T. Realmuto’s future hangs in the balance, Andrew Knapp is currently preparing as though he’ll be the team’s starting catcher in 2021.
Knapp, one of the longest-tenured Phillies, believes he’s capable of an increased workload, should things not work out between the Phillies and Realmuto.
“I’m just trying to get myself ready to play potentially 100, 120 games if J.T. doesn’t end up signing back with the Phillies,” Knapp said Thursday on MLB Network Radio. “It’s a little bit different offseason for me just as far as preparation goes, trying to really get my body ready to play everyday. I’m just kind of keeping my head down, trying to prepare myself for whatever happens. A lot of that stuff is out of my control – all of it, basically. So, whatever happens, happens. J.T. is a great player, and if he’s back with the Phillies, then it’s going to be great for our team. And if he’s not, then I feel like I can step in and fill that role somewhat. I’m not going to be J.T. Realmuto right out of the gate, but I do think that I can play every day.”
Clearly, the hope from the Phillies – and certainly from the fanbase – is that they’ll still be able to reach a long-term pact with Realmuto. New Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski met with Realmuto in Oklahoma, his native state, before Christmas, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. While Dombrowski says that no contract negotiations happened in this meeting, you don’t go to those lengths in relationship building – especially during a pandemic – if you aren’t serious about eventually signing someone.
That said, the approach from Knapp to control what he can control is a wise one. He may end up in a similar role to where he’s been the past two seasons, but we could also wake up one morning and learn that Realmuto has signed with, say, the Toronto Blue Jays. If Realmuto departs, Knapp probably won’t be asked to play 120 games, but certainly he’ll be relied on more than he has during the previous two campaigns.
Manager Joe Girardi said earlier this offseason that he believes Knapp is the only player currently employed by the Phillies that they think is a major-league ready catcher. Rafael Marchan did homer once in his three games with the Phillies in 2020, but the organization would like for the 21-year-old to get more seasoning at the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Would Knapp then become the starting catcher if Realmuto leaves? It’s hard to tell. James McCann, the second best catcher that was available this offseason, has already signed with the New York Mets. Yadier Molina is a free agent, but it would still be pretty surprising if the nine-time All-Star doesn’t end up back in St. Louis. Short of trading for Willson Contreras, the Phillies will be forced to consider options like Kurt Suzuki if Realmuto departs.
After two consecutive disappointing seasons, Knapp was excellent in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, slashing .278/.404/.444 with two home runs, 15 RBIs and an .849 OPS. Knapp credited an offensive resurgence to getting more consistent at-bats. That theory could be tested in 2021 if Realmuto isn’t re-signed.
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