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Phillies GM Matt Klentak gives Andrew Knapp strong vote of confidence | Extra Innings

As the Phillies' search for free-agent pitching begins, Matt Klentak offered kind words about the backup catcher.

Andrew Knapp started 30 games as the Phillies' backup catcher to J.T. Realmuto in 2019.
Andrew Knapp started 30 games as the Phillies' backup catcher to J.T. Realmuto in 2019.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The Phillies will pursue Gerrit Cole. The Phillies have an interest in Madison Bumgarner. The Phillies would love to sign Stephen Strasburg. Cole Hamels would love to return to Philadelphia.

It’s going to be all pitching all the time for the Phillies during this Hot Stove season, and since super agent Scott Boras is once again running the show — both Cole and Strasburg are his clients — you should probably be prepared for this to go on for a while.

For the good of the game, let’s hope it doesn’t drag into spring training again this year.

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The 26th man

It’s not nearly as sexy as acquiring a Cy Young Award-level starting pitcher for $250-$300 million, but Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and his team of decision makers will have a new situation to ponder in 2020 when rosters expand from 25 to 26 players.

Klentak talked at length about that addition this week at the general manager meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“I think it’s going to be fun to watch because I think you’re going to have different teams that approach that very differently,” Klentak said. “You may have some rebuilding clubs that are going to use that as an opportunity to give maybe an unproven player more playing time. For contending teams, you might find they are using that roster spot on some sort of specialist. Not necessarily a pitcher, but a pinch runner or pinch hitter or a defensive specialist.”

While rosters will expand to 26, pitching staffs will be limited to 13, which had become the most common number for almost every major-league team in recent years.

One possibility for some teams is to keep three catchers, although that seems unlikely for the Phillies since they have J.T. Realmuto, who started a major-league-leading 130 games at that position last season.

“Given that J.T. plays as much as he does, I think if we were going to carry a third catcher, we would want that player to probably be able to play somewhere else and/or be more of an offensive bench threat,” Klentak said.

Andrew Knapp, the Phillies’ backup catcher each of the last three seasons, has come under fire for a lack of offensive production, but his .318 on-base percentage was actually higher than 14 of the 21 backup catchers who had between 100 and 200 at-bats last season.

Deivy Grullon, who got his first big-league cup of coffee in September, appears to be more of an offensive threat than Knapp. Grullon hit 21 homers each of the last two seasons at double-A Reading and triple-A Lehigh Valley. His 77 RBIs last season were tied for eighth in the International League, a remarkable rank for a catcher.

Both Knapp and Grullon have the ability to play first base.

Klentak was asked if the Phillies needed to upgrade at backup catcher from Knapp.

“To be fair to Andrew, J.T. relative to just about anybody is going to be a huge gap,” Klentak said. "More than anything, the reason J.T. played so much is because J.T. is really good and he’s really durable and he wants to play.

“I think it’s really difficult for any player, but especially a relatively young player like Knapp, to adjust to a bench role when they’ve been a regular most of their lives. I was encouraged by the way he played in the last week to 10 days when he had a chance to play a little more regularly. I thought his at-bats were good.

“The other thing I’ll say on Knapp is, he’s a really strong and influential guy in the clubhouse. He’s very close to his teammates, he’s a leader in the clubhouse, and that’s another thing we have to make sure we appreciate with whatever decision we make. I think the pairing of Realmuto and Knapp is generally pretty good and can continue to be, particularly with the 26th man, which is likely going to add another bat off the bench and limit the number of pinch-hitting opportunities for the backup catcher.”

The rundown

Nothing like Scott Boras Day at the GM meetings and winter meetings, and the first installment came Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz. While rumors have swirled that Houston All-Star pitcher Gerrit Cole would prefer to sign with a West Coast team, Boras indicated his client would happily accept a check signed by Phillies managing partner John Middleton.

Surprise, surprise, look who’s back in a managerial chair. Well, Gabe Kapler actually prefers a standing desk in his office, but you get the idea. Kapler was hired by the San Francisco Giants and Scott Lauber listened to him field a lot of tough questions Wednesday at his introductory news conference. The Phillies will face Kapler and the Giants from April 27-29 in San Francisco, and Kapler and his team will come to Philadelphia for a four-game series from Aug. 6-9.

If Middleton wants to spend big again on free agents this offseason, which seems likely when you have a class that includes Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson, among others, he can probably do so without taking the Phillies over baseball’s luxury-tax threshold of $208 million. Scott Lauber examined the Phillies’ payroll commitments already in place.

Matt Klentak knows pitching is the team’s No. 1 priority this offseason, but he also knows that it’s not just about dollars and years. The GM has concerns about giving up too many draft picks by signing high-level free agents.

Former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is looking for work after leaving his advisory role with the New York Mets. Amaro told me he would love to return to Philadelphia in some capacity, and that might be possible in some sort of broadcasting role.

Juan Castro, best known around here for making a terrific play at third base to complete the late Roy Halladay’s 2010 perfect game in Miami, was hired as the Phillies’ infield instructor late last week. He replaces Bobby Dickerson, who left for a job in San Diego.

Important dates

Nov. 20: Teams must set their 40-man rosters for the Rule 5 draft.

Dec. 9-12: Winter meetings in San Diego.

Feb. 11: Phillies pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

March 26: Opening day against the Marlins in Miami.

Stat of the day

If you are still an avid reader of the print edition, you will find an extensive story in this Sunday’s Inquirer about the Phillies’ quest for an international superstar like Washington’s Juan Soto and Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. Some of the Phillies’ best international signings have helped them acquire players via trade, with the most recent example being the deal that brought them All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto from Miami. The two key players going the other way were catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitcher Sixto Sanchez, both of whom had good seasons.

Alfaro hit .262 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs for the Marlins, and Sanchez went 8-6 with a 2.76 ERA in 20 starts at high-A Jupiter and double-A Jacksonville. Sanchez struck out 103 and walked just 21 in 114 innings.

The Phillies’ best international signing from the past was infielder Jonathan Villar, who hit .274 with 33 doubles, five triples and 24 home runs with Baltimore. The Phillies traded Villar, 28, to Houston as part of the Roy Oswalt deadline deal in 2010.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Question: After demolishing AFL pitching this Autumn, it is indisputable that Alec Bohm is the real McCoy. After applying himself diligently, Bohm has made solid improvement in his defense at 3rd base. His lateral movement is improved and there is no questions about his arm. Still, some scouts (who likely haven’t seen Bohm since last Spring Training) say he is destined for 1st base. The Phils need a 3rd baseman badly. Yet, Bohm will be in the Show by May. Why are the Phillies said to be considering Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson when Bohm is so close? If Bohm’ s future is at 1st base, what does that mean for Rhys Hoskins? Even though his slump extended to the end of the season, he still is one of the best power hitters in MLB. Where are they going with this? Thanks so much for your excellent insight. I look forward to you covering Hot Stove.

— Roger S., via email

Answer: Thanks for the question and for being such an avid reader, Roger. Alec Bohm did follow up a stellar minor-league season with a great showing in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .361 with a .925 OPS in 19 games against top competition.

With Hoskins at first base and Bohm knocking on the big-league door, it does create an interesting situation for the Phillies. I personally don’t think the Phillies will sign either Rendon or Donaldson because they will spend the big bucks on pitching. Maybe they’ll try to sign Mike Moustakas on a short-term deal and continue to let Bohm develop for one more year while also finding out if Hoskins can overcome the problems he had in the second half of last season.

There is one important thing to remember. It seems likely that the designated hitter will be coming to the National League in the not-too-distant future, and under that scenario, every team in the league is going to want another hitter capable of putting up big power numbers. So if the Phillies did decide to sign Rendon or Donaldson to long-term deals, they could have a middle of the order in two years with Bohm, Hoskins, Bryce Harper and either Rendon or Donaldson.