Ron Costello

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Phillies Will Have to Depend on Chooch in 2015

Part four: How to fix the Phillies.

When he drops the donut and promenades to the plate, fans croon an ancient Mayan chant, like a deep-voiced singsong seeking rain...Chooooooooooooooooooooch, minus the drums and rattles, of course.

It's nice to hear, instead of boooooooooooooooooo — although to an untrained ear, it can sound the same.

"Bob, why are you watching that? All those people know how to do is boo, boo, boo."

"Oh no, Hun, Chooch is up, they are actually cheering him."

"Huh? Doesn't sound that way.Whatever, Bob. Let's watch Downton Abbey."

How 'bout that Chooch. Is he a gamer? A damn good catcher who handles pitchers like a high school guidance counselor — and when his game is on, his bat's got pop. He guns out runners on his knees and blocks the plate like the best of them — Posey, Daulton, Bench, Molina, Campanella.

He's the antonym of Rod Barajas, the synonym of Mike Piazza.

He's a World Series champion, caught two no hitters — both by Doc, a perfect game in May of 2010, and a post season no hitter in October of the same year — an All-Star team appearance in 2012.

However, he has one enemy. It's not a base runner or a blind umpire, or a pitcher who can't find the plate. No, none of those. It's baseball purgatory, where, if you spend too much time, the baseball Gods will ring you up and cash you out — faster than the cashier at Trump Taj Mahal, or, what was Trump Taj Mahal.

Baseball purgatory: The disabled list.

Carlos Ruiz, a Philly folklore hero, is long in the tooth — he's no bebé. When the Phillies take the field for their home opener against the Red Sox on April 6, he'll be 36. That's 44 in catcher's years.

In 2012, Chooch went yard 16 times and drove in 68 — out of Charlie's eight hole spot. Since then he hasn't come close to those numbers. Even that 2012 season, the best in his career, he missed considerable time with plantar fasciitis, a nasty, painful and tough to get rid of inflamed band of tissue on the bottom of the foot, between the heel and arch. It's an injury that runners often get.

He spent more time in baseball purgatory.

In 2013, he missed the first 25 games after testing positive for Adderall, then  missed a month with a strained left hamstring and played in just over half of the regular season games. In the off season, he underwent minor arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder.

On June 26th, Chooch took a curveball off his helmet and suffered a concussion, his second with the Phillies, and spent a month on the DL. The Phillies eased him back slowly, and he finished the season appearing in just 110 games, accumulating six home runs and 31 RBIs.

Prior to the start of the 2014 season, Chooch signed a three-year deal that pays him $8.5 a season through 2016. Some questioned the wisdom of giving a 34  year old catcher that deal, when his numbers and playing time are significantly different before — and after, the Adderall suspension, and who, in the final year of his contract, will be 37.

What, Junior rewarding an aging heirloom from the glory days? Nah, that'll never happen.

Lookit, the real question is, can Chooch be the Phillies number one catcher in 2015? The answer might be, he has to, there's no one else. The 2015 free agent list of catchers is dismal, with the exception of the Pirates' Russell Martin, and that's the last thing the Phillies need — another 32 year old catcher seeking a three  year deal on the down-hill-run of his career.

The Phillies could trade for a catcher, but who, besides Cody Asche, would they trade that any team would want? — and they are already paying a number one catcher; the club with the third highest payroll in baseball can't afford two.

Ideally, Chooch would continue as number one, while mentoring and teaching rookie Tommy Joseph — at the same time, keeping things steady with a new rotation. Problem with that is Joseph also has a history of concussions, and played in only 36 games last season.

With the whirlwind of keeping concussions to a  minimum, thus avoiding future mental health problems — see the NFL and NHL — it's dicey to move a catcher along who already has a history of concussions.

There's also 24 year old Sebastian Valle — who's been shuffled back and forth between Reading and Lehigh Valley so much, he's an elite member of the Ez-pass rewards' club — whose numbers haven't impressed. Although he's displayed some power — 13 home runs at Reading in 2013 — it's doubtful Valle is ready for the Show.

Perhaps the safe bet is to resign 37 year old Will Nieves — himself no stranger to baseball purgatory —  to another one year deal, and get as much time out of Nieves and Chooch as possible, allowing Joseph and Valle to ferment on the farm.

This, of course, is more homework for Junior. But will he:
  • Go with the status quo — Chooch and Nieves?
  • Get a healthy Tommy Joseph ready by spring training to serve as Chooch's apprentice? 
  • Unsure of Joseph's health and Valle's potential, use Cody Asche's trade value, and, combined, let's say, with Antonio Bastardo or Papelbon, find a 20 year old Buster Posey?
  • None of the above 
One thing is for certain with the 2015 Phillies — nothing is certain!

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