According to an interview that appeared on Comcast, Phillies GM Pat Gillick is seeking a young backup catcher via trade to catch 50-60 games next season. If it sounds like a threat to Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste, there may be a logical explanation. Or maybe not.
Believe it or not, finding a backup catcher could be one of the tougher challenges of the Phillies' offseason.
Let me explain. Even with Ruiz and Coste in place, the Phillies need a No. 3 catcher no matter what. Catchers run a high risk of injury. Additionally, neither Ruiz, 28, nor Coste, 34, are proven commodities. The Phils have nobody at the Triple-A level who would classify as major-league ready (Dusty Wathan, Tim Gradoville and Jason Jaramillo are currently listed on Ottawa’s roster). Jaramillo, fresh off his excellent season in the Arizona Fall League, still needs time in the minors.
Adding another Sal Fasano-type tweener will be harder than it was in 2006. After Todd Pratt left the backup job vacant, serving as Mike Lieberthal’s insurance policy was a desirable situation for FAs looking for work. It was a great opportunity for Fasano; he was never challenged for the backup role in spring training. Ruiz spent most of spring catching Panama in the WBC and was soon optioned to minor league camp. Then, when Lieberthal went down, Fasano saw more starting action than at any point in his career.
This season is a little different. Reports say the Phillies believe Ruiz can stick as the featured catcher. Meanwhile, Coste (of whom the team has been suspiciously quiet about) proved his worth last season, catching most of the second-half load. Coste finished batting .328 with 7 homers, and was the catcher for many of the staff's best starts.
Needless to say, backup opportunities appear limited, which is why trading for a young, albeit ML-ready player might be the best answer. It would seem less likely for a free agent -- minor league or otherwise -- to gamble on winning a job in spring training, with Ottawa, Canada as their most likely destination ...
... unless ... there are alternative plans for "Coste/Ruiz," which many of us have become accustomed to typing.
Generally, the Phillies are in better shape around the edges than last season. They have better depth in outfield, infield, and in areas of speed and defense.
Besides back-end bullpen, the Phillies could also look for an answer in long relief, where Zach Segovia could get a shot at some point next season.
This is 100 percent pure speculation: Based on how he was used this fall, it appears the Phillies are looking at him as a bullpen candidate. The 23-year-old right-hander, who won 16 games as a starter between Clearwater and Reading, made six AFL appearances, all in relief, and went 1-1 with a 0.93 ERA over 9 2-3 innings.
Indications are he is not in the starting plans for next season, but needless to say, his limited relief-only role is more than a little intriguing, especially for a pitcher who might have reached 20 wins had it not been for a Team USA commitment.