Tampa Bay Rays: A Chance to Find a Catcher

Kevin Cash and Matt Silverman address the media at the 2015 season-ending press conference - Sports Talk Florida
Kevin Cash and Matt Silverman address the media at the 2015 season-ending press conference - Sports Talk Florida /

With all the attraction the Tampa Bay Rays are getting as the trade deadline approaches, a catcher would be an excellent commodity in return.

We are entering the “trading season” in major league baseball. From the All-Star break to August 1, teams poised for a play off spot will look to teams hopelessly out of the race for players to shore up weaknesses. The Boston Red Sox have already raided Arizona and San Diego for a closer and a starter.

Under such circumstances, you would expect the last place Tampa Bay Rays to attract attention and they are getting a lot of it.

Teams are scouting the entire Tampa Bay Rays starting pitching staff as well as the versatile Erasmo Ramirez.

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I don’t expect the Rays pitchers to go anywhere but position players on one year contracts such as Steve Pearce and Logan Morrison could well have new addresses by the end of July.

However, this trading season may work to the Tampa Bay Rays benefit in another way. It just might be an opportunity for them to find a much needed catcher.

Currently the Rays are in their usual state of confusion when it comes to catchers.

They gave up on Hank Conger and sent him to Durham. For all intents and purposes, they have demoted Curt Casali to backup status. They recalled Luke Maile from Durham.

Maile has good defensive skills and has been on an offensive tear for the month of June and July. Prior to that he was seen as a marginal prospect. For now, he’s the Rays starting catcher.

They certainly will want to upgrade this position and three teams may offer inexpensive, controllable catchers at a reasonable price.

The first team is the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies. They currently have Cameron Rupp as their starting catcher, Carlos Ruiz as back up and highly regarded prospects Andrew Knapp (#9) and Jorge Alfaro (#6) at Triple-A and Double-A.

Ruiz is on his last legs and wouldn’t be of much help to the Rays. The other three definitely would be good acquisitions.

Outside of Ruiz, Rupp is probably the most available. He has a major league slash line of .249/.305/.409 over 558 at bats. He also has 18 home runs and 62 RBIs.

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He has good defensive skills and calls a good game and it probably wouldn’t cost a top five prospect plus he is under team control through 2020. Knapp and Alfaro are offense first catchers with strong throwing arms.

If the Rays traded for either player and they didn’t work out at catcher, they could play another position. It would probably take a solid player package to obtain either one of them.

Cincinnati is similar to Philadelphia. They are out of the race, rebuilding and have a temporary starting catcher.

Tucker Barnhart is holding down the job until all star Devin Mesoraco comes back from surgery next season.

Barnhart is sound defensively with good footwork and excellent release on throws. Offensively he has a career .250/.316/.380 slash line in 571 at bats. He has less power than the Phillies catchers with 7 career home runs and39 RBIs. He is also under team control through 2020 and wouldn’t cost a fortune in prospects.

The third catching possibility would be Josh Phegley of the Oakland A’s. Phegley has been splitting time with the often injured Stephen Vogt over the past two years so his body of work is not as large as Rupp or Barnhart but he does have a .250/.316/380 slash line at Oakland in 303 at bats. He also contributed 10 home runs and 44 RBIs.

Phegley has developed himself into an excellent defender with a strong throwing arm. He has been injured for a good part of 2016 and is just getting back on the field. Oakland is also going nowhere this year and Billy Beane loves to trade so Phegley could be obtained for prospects. He is under control through 2020.

Neither Rupp, Barnhart nor Phegley is going to be compared with Buster Posey at this point in their career.

However, it doesn’t take much to improve the Rays catching situation. The Rays are not going to able to afford the Jonathan Lucroy’s of the world and their farm system has no catchers among their top ten prospects.

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That leaves us with a trade and, assuming Phegley is healthy, I would trade for any one of the three and take a chance that the Rays can finally land a quality catcher for the future.