PHILADELPHIA -- If you had to put a mortgage or a rent check on the line and predict the position a specific Phillies player will play on Opening Day, who is the smartest bet?
Rhys Hoskins could be at first base or left field. Better stay away from him.
Will Odubel Herrera be in center? Is Cesar Hernandez going to start at second? Who the heck will be playing shortstop and third?
The best bet might be catcher Jorge Alfaro, but then again, Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto could be traded this offseason. Realmuto, 27, is arguably the best catcher in baseball. His agent said on MLB Network Radio last week that Realmuto has no interest in a contract extension with the Marlins and that he predicts his client will be traded before Spring Training. Realmuto is eligible to become a free agent following the 2020 season, which means any team that acquires him would have him in their lineup for at least the next two seasons.
Realmuto sure would look nice in the middle of the Phillies' lineup with Hoskins and Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, no? He hit .277 with 21 home runs, 74 RBIs and an .825 OPS last season with Miami. Realmuto is ranked 34th in the Major Leagues in wRC+ (126) and 25th in WAR (4.8) out of 140 qualified players, according to FanGraphs. He has the third-strongest arm among catchers, and he is the fastest-running catcher in the Majors, according to Statcast™.
But would the Phils take a run at Realmuto? The Phils cherish controllable assets; the more controllable players in the system, the better. In fact, this summer, had the opportunity for a straight-up Realmuto-Alfaro trade presented itself, there is reason to believe that Philadelphia would not have pulled the trigger because the idea of trading five years of Alfaro, who cannot become a free agent until after 2023, for two years of Realmuto did not make sense at the time.
But sources have indicated that the Phillies are more open this offseason to trading controllable talent for somebody closer to free agency, like Realmuto.
But would the Phils be better served trading prized assets to fill holes elsewhere?
It depends how they truly feel about Alfaro. He hit .262 with 10 home runs, 37 RBIs and a .731 OPS last season. Alfaro posted a 96 wRC+ and a 2.1 WAR. He has the strongest arm among catchers, and he is the second-fastest running catcher in baseball, according to Statcast™. Alfaro is an excellent pitch framer, at least according to Baseball Prospectus. He ranked fifth among catchers in framing runs (12.3). Realmuto ranked 71st (-0.4).
The Phillies saw some progress from Alfaro over the course of last season, but his biggest issue remains swinging and missing too much. He struck out 138 times in 377 plate appearances. Alfaro's strikeout rate (36.6 percent) ranked third among 247 players with a minimum of 350 plate appearances, although his strikeout rate dropped each month: March/April (42.4 percent), May (37.5), June (36.4), July (34.3), August (33.9) and September (33.3).
Alfaro's expected wOBA also improved from the first half (.265 in April-June) to the second half (.326 in July-September). The MLB average was .311.
But are the Phillies convinced that Alfaro will continue to make more contact in 2019? His 33.3 percent strikeout rate in September still would have ranked ninth in the Majors, so it isn't like he is on a path to becoming Tony Gwynn. If the Phils are convinced that Alfaro will make more contact, then they might believe they already have a front-line catcher, because when he puts the ball in play, he does damage.
Alfaro's hard-hit rate (44 percent) tied for 44th out of 281 batters (minimum 200 batted balls), according to Statcast™. Alfaro hit 8.7 percent of his batted balls at 110 mph or harder, which ranked eighth out of 198 batters (minimum 100 batted balls).
But everybody knows Realmuto can hit. He has proven it. The Phillies would be hoping Alfaro continues to improve. It is a gamble, which means the Phils are expected to at least talk to the Marlins about Realmuto.
The price will be high, but it might be one worth paying.