The Phillies have no big trade chips this summer. They could move one or more of Jeremy Hellickson, Peter Bourjos, Jeanmar Gomez, David Hernandez or Carlos Ruiz, but none of those players is going to bring back a huge return, either because of their level of production or contract status.
The best way for the Phils to get some real value for one of their veterans might be to package them together — for example, find a team that needs a starting pitcher and a fourth outfielder and offer Hellickson and Bourjos together.
But even someone like Bourjos, who has been on fire for a month, won't bring back a significant prospect. A better package would include a player we've heard no trade buzz about: catcher Cameron Rupp. Heck, he'd have value by himself.
Rupp, 27, has had a breakout first half. In 222 plate appearances, he's hit .287 with 17 doubles, nine home runs and an .836 OPS. He's in the top five among catchers in batting average, slugging and OPS. Offense behind the plate rarely has been more scarce than it is now, making Rupp a valuable piece to have.
In fact, Rupp's value will likely never be higher than it is now. He's made genuine improvements at the plate, but it's doubtful that he'll finish the season hitting .287. He was a .245 career hitter in the minors.
He'll also never be cheaper than he is now. Rupp is making $518,000 this season. He'll get a raise next season but will be making close to the same salary. Then he's arbitration eligible from 2018 to 2020, so Rupp is under team control for the next four seasons after this one. If another team believes in his offensive production, it could talk itself into viewing Rupp as its catcher of the future.
Should the Phillies sell high? It's a complicated matter.
The most important question is: Will Rupp be of more value to the Phillies than whatever a catcher-needy team is willing to trade for him? One would assume that answer is yes, Rupp has more value to the Phils than Prospect X. But it's also realistic to expect teams to inquire about him because there are several contenders getting absolutely nothing out of their catchers. And with how thin the starting pitcher market is, teams could choose instead to upgrade their weakest offensive positions.
The Indians are in first place in the AL Central. Their catchers have hit .168. The White Sox have made several win-now moves. Their catchers have hit .209 with no power. The Pirates are battling for a wild-card spot and struggling to find a competent catcher with Francisco Cervelli out. Their backstops have hit .213 with a .273 slugging percentage.
But Rupp could also have value to non-contenders in need of a catcher because, again, he's still young and inexpensive.
The only reason this is even worth bringing up is because the Phillies have two catching prospects close to the majors. Switch-hitting Andrew Knapp is an All-Star for Triple A Lehigh Valley, and at Double A Jorge Alfaro is hitting .295 with power and impressive defense. It would be tough to fit all of them onto the same 25-man roster someday. And that day is approaching. Knapp will be 25 in November, and the Phillies will soon want to figure out what they have in him. And it's safe to assume Alfaro already would be at Triple A and closer to the majors if Knapp wasn't there.
Could one of them switch positions eventually? Sure, that's the most likely scenario. It won't be Alfaro, but perhaps Rupp or Knapp could play some first base. If all three catchers remain in the organization this summer and through the winter, the guess here is that the Phillies would open 2017 with Knapp backing up Rupp in the majors and Alfaro playing every day at Triple A. That's not a bad scenario by any means.
Trading Rupp would make sense only if it nets the Phillies an intriguing player they're confident can reach the majors soon at a position of need. If they get to a spot where it behooves them to deal a catcher, moving Knapp might actually be the most logical choice.
The Phillies have already seen Rupp produce at the major-league level. They haven't seen Knapp do it, obviously, because he hasn't yet been called up. Knapp doesn't have the same upside as Alfaro. Knapp isn't nearly the defensive catcher, which is a major consideration in all of this. Knapp is the player most likely to have to switch positions, and you can't be sure yet that his bat will be impactful enough to stick at first base or left field.
Look at the Red Sox as an example. Rumors have swirled for years about potential trades, but they've held on to both of their young catchers, Blake Swihart and Christian Vasquez. They valued Vasquez's defense enough to make Swihart learn left field. But Vasquez hasn't hit enough, and Swihart (currently on the DL) might not be enough of an offensive force to be an everyday leftfielder. Being an above-average offensive catcher makes a player valuable because of supply and demand. But there's a different threshold for offense at first base or in left field. Can Knapp meet it? Hard to say.
In any event, this is a good problem for the Phillies to have. There are few, if any teams in baseball that feel as comfortable with their future catching situation as the Phils. Maybe someday the depth leads them to start Alfaro behind the plate with Rupp backing him up and Knapp in one of those other spots. Maybe.
GM Matt Klentak has already shown he's willing to sell high on a young player if the return is right (see: Giles, Ken). I'm not saying Rupp is assured of regression — he's consistently driving the ball and using all fields — but he does have nine walks and 56 strikeouts, plate selection numbers which foretell an evening-out process. We could look back at this a few months from now and wonder why we didn't 100 percent believe it was time to sell high on Rupp.
The other factor in it, and some readers will discount this completely, is Rupp's standing on the team. Yes, I will use the phrase "clubhouse presence." Rupp is a leader on this team. He's the go-to player for reporters after a game, which a young team needs, especially when things are going bad. The pitchers love him. The position players love him. What kind of message would it send to trade that guy just as things are starting to look up?
These are all matters the Phillies' front office is likely weighing right now, even if they're just hypothetical. It behooves a rebuilding team with an eye on the future to keep all doors open.