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.
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:
- Nationals: Signed Kurt Suzuki and traded for Yan Gomes.
- Braves: Signed Brian McCann.
- Rangers: Signed Jeff Mathis.
- Rays: Traded for Mike Zunino.
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:
Martin has one year at $20M left on his deal. The Blue Jays are willing to pay down a significant amount of that, per sources. Cervelli is likewise in the final year of his contract, at $11.5M. Teams love his OBP and makeup, and Pirates have Elias Díaz to play every day.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 29, 2018
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:
- Yasmani Grandal
- J.T. Realmuto
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
- Wilson Ramos
- Francisco Cervelli
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.