Phillies backup catcher has a shot at long-term success as J.T. Realmuto's successor

In a post-J.T. Realmuto world, do the Phillies already have his successor aboard?
Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals
Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals / G Fiume/GettyImages
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Since coming to the Philadelphia Phillies via trade before the 2019 season, All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto has been locked in behind the plate, a lineup fixture who has provided exactly the kind of all-around value that the Phillies were hoping for when they traded him. Being a catcher, of course, he has had to endure a lot of wear and tear while putting on those hard miles, as evidenced by his recent knee surgery that will keep him out seemingly until at least late July.

All signs point to Realmuto being able to contribute at full health over the final third of the season and for a hopefully deep playoff run, but the team must soldier on without their potential future Hall of Famer in the interim. Backup Garrett Stubbs has taken on an increased role, and Rafael Marchán has now entered (or re-entered) the chat as he attempts to show that he can be a viable long-term option at the position.

Phillies' Rafael Marchán has a shot at long term success

It's hard to believe that Marchán made his MLB debut way back in the shortened 2020 season. He'd go on to acquit himself decently in a smattering of games in 2021, but multiple injuries since had kept him out of MLB action for over two years until recently. His four-hit game during the San Diego series certainly opened some eyes, but the fact is that he's already a better alternative as a backup catcher than Garrett Stubbs once J.T. Realmuto returns from the IL, and could end up providing even more value in the years ahead.

Although blessed with freakish toughness and athleticism, Realmuto won't outlast Father Time. He turned 33 during spring training, an age when most catchers have long since broken down and are shells of their former selves with the bat. Realmuto looks like he'll have a longer shelf life than the vast majority of these backstops, but the end will come at some point. Couple in the fact that 2025 will be the final season of the five-year pact that he signed to re-up with Philadelphia in 2021, and Dave Dombrowski and company really should be lining up some sort of succession plan.

For starters, Stubbs is not an option. Even in a timeshare, he would be a weak link in a lineup that has designs on being a serious contender. Since his surprisingly good first season with the Phillies in 2022, he has been exposed as a substandard major league player. He is competent enough actually playing his position, but not special enough to merit being able to tolerate him in the lineup with any kind of regularity.

His situation is not comparable to that of Johan Rojas. Stubbs is a liability, and he seems to be mostly around based on clubhouse vibes. That can continue to provide value for now, but his time on the team should be limited.

The Phillies' minor league system seemingly doesn't hold many answers, either. The best of the bunch may be 17-year-old Eduardo Tait, who is currently playing rookie ball. We may see him in a Phillies uniform in about 2029, but that's a bit far off for the exercise of finding Realmuto's successor. The rest of the system has a collection of young catchers who could be viable backups for the long haul, but there are no apparent starters in the making, all of which brings us back to Marchán.

You'd hate to say that Marchán is the frontrunner for the No. 1 catcher role on the Phillies by default, so let's give him some credit. He is putting together competitive at-bats, and he figures to improve as a hitter once exposed to major league pitching on a regular basis. He won't be at Realmuto's levels, but he can be above average.

Couple this with how well he works with Ranger Suárez and generally appears to play his position well, and Marchán could be a net positive for the Phillies for several seasons following Realmuto's departure. It's worth the effort to fully follow through on Marchán's development story and give him every opportunity to be the Phillies' primary option behind the dish for an extended period of time.

Front-line catchers simply don't hit the free agent market, and the odds are against the Phillies putting together a good enough trade package to conjure up another star catcher in the prime of his career like they did with Realmuto. The most likely long-term solution comes from within, and Rafael Marchán is positioned as well as anyone to be the Phillies' main man behind the plate in the years immediately following the J.T. Realmuto era.

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