White Sox return to catcher market with plenty of optionsYasmani Grandal (Ian D'Andrea / Flickr)

White Sox return to catcher market with plenty of options

Veterans of different (production) shapes and (contract) sizes available to plug roster spot vacated by Omar Narvaez trade

A month ago, we discussed the lopsided and self-defeating value White Sox catchers provided/deprived the team. Welington Castillo and Omar Narvaez outproduced just about the entire league at the plate, but they also gave away a lot of that value with leaky defense and receiving behind it plate.

The premise: “White Sox catchers have offense to spare, if league wants it.”

Well, whaddya know? The league wanted it. Or at least the Mariners did, as they acquired Narvaez for Alex Colome on Saturday. Then again, Jerry Dipoto might trade for Omar Vizquel before the week is over at the rate he’s turning over his roster.

But there’s something to the idea that a lot of the league is confronting a change with their catchers, whether it’s due to expiring contracts, dissatisfaction with incumbents, or both.

The White Sox fell into the latter group. They could’ve rationalized rolling into 2019 with Castillo and Narvaez, pointing to their offensive gifts and crossing fingers for defensive improvement. Instead, Rick Hahn used Narvaez to acquire two years of a capable closer, and he seems averse to opening the season with Seby Zavala in Chicago. Hence, they’re not done shifting catchers themselves.

The Sox and Mariners are not the only teams shuffling the deck. Other teams making changes behind the plate early on:

And the pool of available catchers is far from exhausted. Yasmani Grandal headlines the list of free agents that also includes Wilson Ramos, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado and Matt Wieters, not to mention the recently non-tendered James McCann and Caleb Joseph.

Also, other veteran catchers could be on the move:

In one sense, it’s disheartening seeing the White Sox fumbling around for catchers as yet another tandem failed to deliver. But perhaps this is one area where the markets invite them to shake things up, because there are still several ways to address and upgrade the spot.

Putting the available catchers into buckets o’ backstops:

Does everything

When incorporating his work behind the plate with three straight 20-homer seasons, Baseball Prospectus has said he’s averaged better than 5 WARP a season. Three things to keep in mind:

No. 1: Grandal rejected a qualifying offer, so he would cost the White Sox their second-highest draft pick and $500,000 of international signing money.

No. 2: Grandal has averaged 127 games a season over the last four years when incorporating all the postseason games the Dodgers have played. That’s a sizable load for a catcher entering his age 30 season, although Welington Castillo would provide competent-or-better work as a backup.

No. 3: Frustration mounted during the postseason as Grandal struggled keeping pitches in front of him (a byproduct of catchers with quiet gloves). Moreover, Keith Law said Grandal “has a reputation of not working well on game-planning with pitchers.” Either this is a good time to get Grandal for less than a maximum cost, or it’s a good time to mark the start of a decline.

As for Realmuto, he’s baseball’s best catcher and is under team control for two more seasons. The White Sox won’t be good enough soon enough to make the prospect cost worth it.

Hits well, catches OK

Ramos has one of baseball’s best offensive catchers the last three years, hitting .298/.343/.483 with 102 extra-base hits over 306 games. That’s remarkable in and of itself, but it also reflects a fine rebound from a major knee injury in September 2016. The injury might’ve taken a toll on his defense, which sagged from above average to a tick below according to BPro’s metrics.

I wanted the White Sox to acquire Cervelli when the Yankees put him on the trading block in 2014. Instead, he went to the Pirates, where he had a strong enough run to earn a contract extension. He’s in the last year of that deal, which pays him $11.5 million as a 33-year-old. He posted a .259/.378/.431 line last season, although his receiving went from above average to below average the last two seasons.

Used to be good

Lucroy used to be a Grandal-class do-everything guy, but his bat evaporated on him the last two seasons. He hit .241/.291/.325 with Oakland, although his receiving rebounded after taking a major dive in 2017. Whatever his faults, he didn’t get in the way of the Athletics winning 95 games, running the show for a pitching staff waylaid by injuries.

Martin is approaching the end of his five-year, $82 million deal with the Blue Jays. Toronto shouldn’t regret the signing, because it achieved its purpose — Martin produced over the first half of the deal and the Jays reached the postseason twice in a row. Unlike the other catchers listed, he still grades well behind the plate. He just happened to hit 193/.338/.325 last year. There’s some evidence of remaining athleticism for his age-36 season. He also played 21 games at third, made a start at shortstop and another one in left.

Mesoraco put his game together for one glorious season with the Reds in 2014, hitting .273/.359/.534 with 25 homers over 114 games and decent defensive numbers. Injuries have spoiled his shot for an encore, and now he hovers around replacement level, more due to a lack of playing time than anything else.

Wieters’ production plummeted after signing with Washington late in the 2016-17 offseason, but the numbers rebounded to .238/.330/.374 with less playing time. He doesn’t stand out for any strengths or flaws these days, which is both good (won’t kill you starting for a week) and bad (doesn’t complement another catcher in any one way).

Can catch, can’t hit

  • Martin Maldonado
  • Caleb Joseph

Maldonado is a career .220/.289/.350, but has found plenty of work because of his catching and throwing. He’s graded well in every one of his eight seasons, and led the league with a 49 percent kill rate (17-for-35) in 2018.

Joseph was right there with Maldonado as an all-glove/no-bat catcher, except his defense numbers dipped significantly in 2018. How much of that is a product of a 115-loss environment and how much contributed to a 115-loss environment is a very boring argument for some very boring ages.

Never got there

  • James McCann

The primary catcher for the twilight of the late Ilitch’s Tigers run, McCann presented flashes of strengths (power, throwing), but the weaknesses (receiving, plate discipline) dragged his value well underwater. A rebuilding team non-tendered him, rather than paying him a projected $3.5 million in arbitration.

5+

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knoxfire30
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knoxfire30

I really wonder how the sox view the importance of a catcher anchoring a young staff at this point. So much catcher turnover and now they seem to have pinned themselves into a position where most of these guys would be coming on a 1 year deal, and their only mlb level catcher under contract also has 1 year left… do we really want rodon, lopez, giolito, and if cease comes up (let alone all the pen arms) working with yet another dual next year….

lil jimmy
Member
lil jimmy

” importance of a catcher anchoring a young staff”
They did indeed, and bet on “Beef”, who decided he needed help riding a bike. It appears they will ride that bet, they placed at this time last year.

MrStealYoBase
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MrStealYoBase

Grandal would be interesting but he’s going to require not-insignificant money and at least 4 years. I’m pulling for the Sox to draft Rustchman or Langeliers at No.3 next year, in which case a stop gap would be most appropriate.

Maldonado is who I think they should sign. All 4 starters with significant IP last year (Rodon, Giolito, Lopez, Shields) were in the top 15 in stolen bases allowed for the AL. The Sox were 28th in baseball with .81 stolen bases allowed per game (Angels were 1st with .21 on the strength of Maldonado). With the number of young pitchers on this team, and (hopefully) the improvement in the offensive output of the rest of the lineup with call-ups, trades, & signings, the Sox really should value defense much more than offense out of the catcher spot. Maldonado is one of the best, if not the best, in the game for this.

MBLTR put him and Suzuki in the same category, predicting $8M/2. Suzuki signed for $10M/2. Even at that money, Maldonado is well worth the investment and matches well with the defense-deficient Collins and/or Zavala tandem when they come up eventually.

denbum
Member
denbum

Count me in on the Rustchman / Langeliers choice at #3.
Anyone seen a comparison of the 2? Is there a preference?

Sign Maldonado or Maldonado-type for the 2 yrs until the draft choice is ‘ready’ and use Collins +/or Zavala in a trade package while they’re still considered a ‘top’ prospect. Won’t have to deal with your “defense-deficient tandem” then.

Jer-in-Az
Member

I like sign Maldonado (2yr deal) and hope Castillo is a tradable asset at the deadline. Bring up Seby for the rest of the year and those two are your tandem for the following year while Collins is in AAA. All the while drafting one of the top guys, if they are close/are top player available. 

Eagle Bones
Member

Would love it if they got Grandal, but more realistically I’d be happy if they could get the Jays to eat a nice chunk of Martin’s money and not have to kick in much prospect capital. The receiving skills are still there and that would be really nice to pair up with the young arms.

Patrick Nolan
Editor

Wilson Ramos has long been a favorite of mine. He’d be interesting.

As Cirensica
Member

I liked him too. It caught my attention Keith Law was particularly rough on him in his Smart Baseball book. Something about Ramos being a terrible hitter which I believe he is not.

GrinnellSteve
Member

I’m listening to MLB radio, and they’re talking about the Braves moving on Realmuto. If so, would that free up a Flowers reunion?