Despite catching depth, bringing back A.J. Ellis would make sense for Phillies

Despite catching depth, bringing back A.J. Ellis would make sense for Phillies

With a starting catcher coming off a powerful season and two catching prospects pushing their way toward the majors, the Phillies are in an enviable position behind the plate.

And yet they still have interest in bringing back 35-year-old A.J. Ellis, according to ESPN's Jayson Stark.

"The Phillies have interest in bringing back AJ Ellis as a catcher/leader/unofficial coach. He has interest in returning. Stay tuned," Stark wrote Tuesday night.

Some might greet this news with confusion — why sign a veteran backup to Cameron Rupp when either Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp could fill that role in 2017? 

But it would make some sense for the Phils to bring Ellis back in that role. He fit in well late last season after being traded here by the Dodgers for Carlos Ruiz. In 11 games with the Phillies, Ellis went 10 for 32 (.313) with three doubles and a homer. 

Ellis has never been known for his bat, though. He's made his reputation as a solid game-caller who pitchers love to work with. In his seven starts with the Phillies, their starting pitchers had a 2.44 ERA. That's not much of a sample size, but Phillies starters did have a 4.06 ERA in games he didn't start after arriving.

With Ruiz and Ryan Howard now gone, the Phillies don't have much in the way of Veteran Presence™. The average of their 40-man roster is between 23 and 24 years old, and the only players over 29 even projected to make the team are Jeremy Hellickson (29), Howie Kendrick (33) and reliever Pat Neshek (36).

Do you need veterans in the clubhouse? Not necessarily. But it's helpful to have someone like Ellis around when a pitcher or hitter is slumping. He was here just a few weeks when he and Howard called a players-only meeting in September.

More important than the concept of veteran leadership, though, is the development of Alfaro and Knapp. Neither is ready just yet to be an everyday catcher in the majors, so it makes more sense to let them both play regularly in the minors. Alfaro is expected to make the jump to Triple A and be the regular catcher at Lehigh Valley in 2017. Knapp, who made the Triple A All-Star Game despite having a mediocre year, should get some opportunities behind the plate, at first base and at DH for the IronPigs.

Letting both young catchers develop further is a wiser approach than having one play two games per week behind Rupp in the majors. So if the Phillies can bring back Ellis, they could bide some time for Alfaro and Knapp while also keeping one of the few experienced voices in their clubhouse.

Plus, it's not like Ellis will put a dent in their payroll. He made $4.5 million last season and could likely be signed for a figure close to that — or perhaps even lower.

MLB Notes: Twins-Braves, Royals-Padres make trades

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MLB Notes: Twins-Braves, Royals-Padres make trades

MINNEAPOLIS -- Hoping to bolster their rotation for a playoff run, the Minnesota Twins have acquired veteran left-handed pitcher Jaime García, catcher Anthony Recker and cash considerations from the Atlanta Braves for minor league right-hander Huascar Ynoa.

The 31-year-old García is 66-52 with a 3.65 ERA and 808 strikeouts in 176 appearances, mostly with St. Louis (2008, 2010-16). He missed the 2009 MLB season following Tommy John surgery.

Garcia is 4-7 with a 4.30 ERA, 41 walks and 85 strikeouts in 18 starts for the Braves this year.

While Garcia's numbers don't jump off the page, the Twins were in need of a veteran arm to put into a rotation that has been largely disappointing behind the top two starters, Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios (see full story).

Royals: Cahill, Maurer, Buchter acquired from Padres
DETROIT -- The contending Kansas City Royals have acquired three pitchers from the San Diego Padres, getting starter Trevor Cahill, closer Brandon Maurer and reliever Ryan Buchter.

The Royals sent pitchers Matt Strahm and Travis Wood, minor league infielder Esteury Ruiz and cash to San Diego on Monday. The deal came one week before the nonwaiver trade deadline.

Kansas City began the day tied with Tampa Bay for the second AL wild-card spot and 1 1/2 games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland. The Royals had been looking to bolster their rotation and bullpen, and did it with one swap.

Cahill was 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 starts for the Padres. The 29-year-old right-hander was an All-Star with Oakland in 2010.

Maurer is 20-for-23 on save tries, and 1-4 with a 5.72 ERA. The 27-year-old righty began his big league career with Seattle in 2013 as a starter.

Buchter is 3-3 with one save and a 3.05 ERA in 42 games. The 30-year-old lefty pitched 67 times for the Padres last year.

Dodgers: Kershaw lost to DL with back injury
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw is headed to the disabled list for the second straight summer because of a back injury.

A year after missing 2 1/2 months with a herniated disk in his lower back, Kershaw was pulled from a start Sunday against Atlanta because of lower back tightness. The Los Angeles Dodgers ace exited after two innings in a 5-4, 10-inning victory.

It leaves baseball's top team without its best pitcher. The Dodgers lead the majors with a 68-31 record and are atop the NL West standings by 10 games.

Kershaw was set to meet with a back specialist Sunday evening for tests, although manager Dave Roberts was already sure that Kershaw would be placed on the 10-day DL (see full story).

Mets: Wheeler put on DL because of arm trouble
NEW YORK -- The New York Mets have put pitcher Zack Wheeler on the 10-day disabled list because of a stress reaction in his right arm.

The Mets didn't provide a timetable for Wheeler's return. He was on the DL last month with biceps tendinitis and has struggled in four starts since his return.

The team recalled righty Tyler Pill from Triple-A Las Vegas before Monday night's game at San Diego.

Wheeler joins Mets starting pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Robert Gsellman on the disabled list. Steven Matz and Seth Lugo recently came off the DL and returned to the rotation.

The 27-year-old Wheeler didn't pitch in the majors the past two years after having Tommy John surgery in 2015. He is 3-7 with a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts.

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams moves up to 3rd for hot-hitting Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams moves up to 3rd for hot-hitting Phillies

The hot-hitting Phillies made some minor tweaks to their lineup for Monday's series opener against the American League-beset Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park.

Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera and Tommy Joseph all move up in the lineup with Howie Kendrick getting the day off. Williams will hit third, Herrera moves up to fifth and Joseph will hit sixth. Andrew Knapp is catching and batting seventh. Cameron Perkins is playing left field and batting eighth.

Williams is hitting .309 with four home runs, four doubles, two triples and 15 RBIs in 19 games since being called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on June 30. He had a two-run homer and another RBI in the Phillies' 6-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday afternoon.

After his 1 for 3 day with an RBI on Sunday, Herrera moves up spot. The centerfielder is hitting .331 with a major-league leading 19 doubles since June 3.

Joseph was 0 for 4 on Sunday with two strikeouts. He hit seventh against the Brewers but will hit sixth tonight.

Vince Velasquez (2-5, 5.14)  is on the mound for the Phillies. He'll be opposed by Brad Peacock (8-1, 2.49).

Here is the Phillies' full lineup:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Odubel Herrera, CF
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Andrew Knapp, C
8. Cameron Perkins, LF
9. Vince Velasquez, SP

For more on tonight's game, read Corey Seidman's game notes.