When the Phillies traded for J.T. Realmuto last offseason, they touted him as the best all-around catcher in baseball. But if there was a skill at which he could improve, it was his “framing” of pitches to help influence more called strikes.
That's where Craig Driver came in.
Driver helped Realmuto become one of the best pitch-framers in the big leagues last season, and after two years on the Phillies coaching staff under former manager Gabe Kapler, the 31-year-old is leaving to join the Chicago Cubs as a first-base coach/catching instructor, a source said Sunday.
It's unclear whether the Phillies will replace Driver, one of several catching coaches on the major-league staff. Driver focused on receiving, in addition to serving as a bullpen catcher. The team is retaining blocking coach/bullpen catcher Bob Stumpo, as well as third-base coach Dusty Wathan, who also works with catchers. New manager Joe Girardi also is a former major-league catcher.
Realmuto was eight runs above average in pitch-framing last season according to FanGraphs, eighth-best among catchers who played at least 600 innings and an improvement from one run above average in 2018 with the Miami Marlins. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras was 8.9 runs below average.
Since Girardi was hired on Oct. 24, the Phillies have hired a new pitching coach (former Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price) and hitting coach (former Washington Nationals assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon). They also promoted Juan Castro to the infield coach position after Bobby Dickerson left to become the San Diego Padres’ bench coach.
The Phillies' other coaches -- Rob Thomson (bench), Wathan, Paco Figueroa (first base/outfield), Pedro Guerrero (assistant hitting), Dave Lundquist (assistant pitching), Jim Gott (bullpen) and Stumpo -- remain in place, though as Kapler puts together his staff with the San Francisco, he could try to pry someone from the Phillies. Guerrero and Figueroa have the closest ties to Kapler among the coaches.
D-day for Hernandez, Franco
Teams have until 8 p.m. Monday to offer 2020 contracts to arbitration-eligible players or turn them loose in free agency. For the Phillies, that means decisions on nine players, notably long-tenured Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco.
If the Phillies go through the arbitration process again with Hernandez, his salary could rise to the $11.8 million range, according to projections at MLBTradeRumors.com, at a time when Scott Kingery could step in at second base. Franco, who lost the third-base job and was optioned to triple A last season, could see his annual salary reach the $6.7 million range through arbitration.
The Phillies are expected to tender contracts to their other arbitration-eligible players: Realmuto, backup catcher Andrew Knapp, and pitchers Jose Alvarez, Vince Velasquez, Hector Neris, Adam Morgan, and Zach Eflin.