There aren’t many contending clubs with a clearly defined need behind the plate, though injuries over the next three weeks could obviously impact that thinking. Beyond that, some teams may simply covet a better backup option to their current starter, while others yet may simply look to do some long-term shopping now, even if they’re not clearly in the mix for a postseason spot. Here’s a look at some of the potentially available receiving assets from around the game…
Jonathan Lucroy, Rangers | Remaining Salary: $2.38MM
Lucroy was one of the marquee names moved at last year’s non-waiver trade deadline, and while he was a monster for the Rangers down the stretch in 2016, he’s been anything but that in 2017. Through 261 plate appearances, the free-agent-to-be is hitting just .256/.303/.364 — a far cry from the .292/.355/.500 slash he posted following last July’s trade to Texas. His long-heralded framing skills have taken a nosedive in 2017 as well, though he’s still thwarted a hefty 34 percent of stolen base attempts against him. The Rangers are reportedly open to dealing Lucroy, who has already begun to lose some playing time to Robinson Chirinos.
Alex Avila, Tigers | Remaining Salary: $907K
Avila’s breakout has been among the most unexpected elements of the 2017 campaign. After years of seeing his productivity decline, he’s emerged as a force at the plate, hitting a ridiculous .299/.423/.535 with 11 homers through just 227 plate appearances. Many are understandably skeptical of Avila’s success and expect heavy regression. While that’s probably in store, to some extent (his .413 BABIP looks particularly unsustainable), Avila leads the planet in hard contact. Among players with at least 200 plate appearances, no one is within even five percent of the 30-year-old Avila’s hard-hit rate. In terms of exit velocity, Avila’s average mark of 92.9 mph trails only Aaron Judge, Miguel Sano and Joey Gallo (min. 50 batted ball events). He’s always been a hugely patient hitter (14 percent walk rate), and Avila now has one of MLB’s most impressive batted-ball profiles to go along with that keen eye.
Rene Rivera, Mets | Remaining Salary: $794K
Teams eyeing a quality backup could be quite intrigued by Rivera, who continually posts strong framing and caught-stealing marks and is also having a decent offensive season. The 33-year-old is hitting .259/.303/.422 with six homers and has been especially effective against left-handed pitching in recent years. His cheap salary and strong glovework would be an improvement over several No. 2 catchers throughout the league.
Nick Hundley, Giants | Remaining Salary: $907K
Hundley’s strikeout and walk rates have taken substantial detours in the wrong direction this season, but he’s still batting a respectable .264/.286/.443 with four homers through 148 plate appearances. He’s long been a bat-first catcher, and the fact that he’s shown decent pop despite playing his home games at the cavernous AT&T Park could hold appeal to teams in need of an experienced backup.
Kurt Suzuki, Braves | Remaining Salary: $680K
The 33-year-old Suzuki has had his best season at the plate since 2014 with the Twins, slashing .250/.342/.461 with seven homers through just 151 plate appearances with the Braves. While SunTrust Park has proven to be homer-friendly, five of Suzuki’s seven big flies have come on the road, so it’s not just the new park that’s led to the resurgence. Suzuki was among the game’s worst at preventing stolen bases from 2015-16, but he’s had a rebound there as well, nailing eight of 29 potential thieves (27.5 percent).
Welington Castillo, Orioles | Remaining Salary: $2.7MM (plus $7MM player option)
Castillo is technically controllable through 2018 due to a player option, but any team acquiring him would be doing so with the hope that he played well enough to forgo that option, so he’s listed with the other rentals. It’s not certain that the O’s will market Castillo — GM Dan Duquette has persistently characterized his team as a contender — but Baltimore is four games under .500 and 7.5 games back in the AL East. Since opening the season with a 22-10 record, the Orioles are 20-36. Even if Duquette doesn’t want to market top-shelf pieces like Manny Machado and Zach Britton, gauging the market on Castillo makes some sense. He’s hitting .258/.298/.412 and has struggled since returning from a groin injury, but if he comes out firing after the break, he could be of interest given his plus power relative to other catchers.
Controlled Through 2018
Tyler Flowers, Braves | Remaining Salary: $1.5MM in 2017 (including $300K buyout of $4MM 2018 club option)
The Braves haven’t given much of an indication that Flowers is on the market, but GM John Coppolella has long been open to dealing veteran pieces that aren’t under contract in the long term. It should be noted that Flowers’ deal contains incentives based on games started, so he’ll actually probably earn another $600-900K this season, as he’ll take home $100K for every fifth start through 90 and another $150K for every five starts after that. Flowers is hitting .306/.397/.440 with the best framing marks of his career but also some uncharacteristic troubles in preventing the running game. He’s thrown out just 18 percent of runners this season and posted just a five percent mark in 2016. Some of that is likely on the Atlanta staff, but the trend is nonetheless concerning.
Devin Mesoraco, Reds | Remaining Salary: $3.3MM in 2017, $13MM in 2018
Mesoraco has been limited to 235 plate appearances in the Majors since Opening Day 2015 due to a series of hip and shoulder injuries. He was on the cusp of emerging as one of the game’s best offensive catchers when his body began to break down, and he’s on the disabled list once again right now due to a strain in his surgically repaired left shoulder. The Reds probably don’t mind the idea of freeing up the remaining $16.3MM or so on his contract, but it’s tough to imagine a trade given his unfortunate inability to stay on the field since signing his four-year extension.
J.T. Realmuto, Marlins | Pre-arbitration, controllable through 2020
Listing Realmuto at all is a stretch, as president of baseball ops said just this weekend that he’s not discussing the young catcher in trades. However, the Marlins are prepping to act at least partially as a seller, and even though Realmuto isn’t making much more than the league minimum, a team could certainly take a run at making a Godfather-style offer to acquire four and a half seasons of a catcher that has batted .303/.348/.440 over the past two seasons despite playing his home games in an extremely pitcher-friendly setting. That said, it seems extremely unlikely that Realmuto does change hands.
Cameron Rupp, Phillies | Pre-arbitration, controllable through 2020
Rupp, on the other hand, is a more logical long-term piece for clubs looking to bring in some help behind the dish. The Phillies have Andrew Knapp, a potential starter, serving as their backup right now. Meanwhile, prospect Jorge Alfaro is honing his skills in his first taste of Triple-A. Alfaro isn’t exactly setting the world on fire in Lehigh Valley, but if the Phils believe that one of Knapp or Alfaro can be their long-term answer behind the plate, then fielding offers on Rupp makes some sense. There’s no rush with Alfaro struggling, though, and Rupp hasn’t exactly helped his trade stock with a .220/.310/.370 slash this season, so this scenario shouldn’t be characterized as especially likely, either.
Tucker Barnhart, Reds | Pre-arbitration, controllable through 2020
Barnhart is having a quietly productive season on a last-place team that is still in the midst of a rebuild. I doubt the Reds are anxious to move him since he’s affordable and playing well, but I also highly doubt that GM Dick Williams would deem Barnhart to be untouchable. He’s hitting .273/.337/.401 with a pair of homers through 212 plate appearances on the year and has thrown out a league-leading 51 percent of potential base thieves.
Currently in the Minors
There are literally dozens of players that could be listed here, so perhaps listing any options under this category is an exercise in futility. That said, each of these players has some Major League experience and was once viewed as a potential starter. They’re all “blocked” to varying extents in the Majors right now as well, so a team looking to roll the dice on a relatively young asset whose stock is down could view players of this ilk as buy-low options.