Pittsburgh is among the teams that will be looking for help behind the plate during the upcoming offseason. The problem for the Pirates and others is that there’s a pittance of slam-dunk starters who are scheduled to reach the open market. With just over a month left in the regular season, here’s a rundown of how the game’s soon-to-be free-agent backstops have performed this year…
The Gold Standard:
- Yasmani Grandal, Brewers: It was a strange offseason last winter for Grandal. Even though the Dodgers issued him a qualifying offer, he still landed a proposal in the four-year, $60MM range from the Mets. But Grandal passed, which forced him to eventually settle for the Brewers’ one-year, $18.25MM guarantee. The deal includes a $16MM mutual option for 2020, but Grandal’s sure to decline his half of it on the heels of another quality season. The switch-hitting 30-year-old has yet again paired easily above-average offense with well-regarded work behind the plate. Grandal’s .253/.380/.460 line with 20 home runs in 503 plate appearances has kept him among the game’s premier offensive catchers, while he’s near the top of the league in Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average metric. The Brewers won’t be able to issue Grandal a qualifying offer after the season, which only makes it more likely that he’ll reel in a lucrative multiyear deal over the winter.
- Jason Castro, Twins: Castro’s closing out a three-year, $24MM with Minnesota, which – aside from an injury-ruined 2018 – has gotten decent overall production from the former Astro. This year’s version is showing more power than ever, with a career-high .228 ISO. Castro, 32, also boasts a .244/.327/.472 line with 12 HRs through 224 PA. Known primarily for his defensive prowess, Castro’s having another fine season in that realm. A return to Minnesota in 2020 seems unlikely, though, as fellow Twins catcher Mitch Garver has emerged as one of baseball’s supreme breakout players this season.
- Travis d’Arnaud, Rays: The Mets released d’Arnaud, a former star prospect, early in the season. Their loss has been an enormous gain for the Rays, who had been counting on offseason pickup Mike Zunino to perform respectably as their No. 1 catcher. Zunino has been awful, however, which has allowed d’Arnaud to put himself back on the map in Tampa Bay. The 30-year-old has batted a sturdy .261/.328/.469 with 13 homers in 271 attempts as a Ray, and has finally stayed healthy after multiple injury-laden seasons. Although d’Arnaud is more a middle-of-the-pack defender than a high-end one, it nonetheless appears he’s on his way to a solid offseason payday.
- Robinson Chirinos, Astros: If you’re looking for some affordable offensive pop from your catcher, Chirinos is a good choice. Just don’t expect defensive brilliance from the 35-year-old. Chirinos, whom the Rangers non-tendered last winter, has given the Astros a 373 PA of .236/.342/.428 hitting with 14 long balls. It’s the fifth straight season of above-average production at the plate from Chirinos.
On the Fringe:
- Brian McCann, Braves: Now 35, the seven-time All-Star can still play. In his return to Atlanta, the site of his greatest individual success, McCann has hit .264/.336/.423 and smacked 10 homers in 274 trips to the plate, though the lefty’s unplayable versus same-handed pitchers. Defensively, although McCann has thrown out a mere 14 percent of would-be base thieves, Baseball Prospectus has looked kindly on his overall work. McCann should get another guaranteed one-year deal in the offseason if he wants, but perhaps he’ll decide to call it quits.
- Martin Maldonado, Astros: Maldonado’s defensive skills are well-documented, but whether he hits enough to serve as a regular is debatable. The 33-year-old has batted a less-than-stellar .210/.284/.360 in 319 PA this season, but it does seem likely he’ll get a major league deal over the winter. He turned down two years and $12MM from Houston last offseason before signing with Kansas City for $2.5MM, after all, and was then in demand around this year’s trade deadline. Two teams (the Cubs and then the Astros) swung deals for him last month.
Potentially Useful 30-Somethings:
- Alex Avila, Diamondbacks: A team looking for a capable backup could do a lot worse than Avila. He has been a better-than-average defender two years running, per BP’s FRAA metric, and has yet again performed well with the bat. The walk-heavy lefty has drawn free passes just under 20 percent of the time this season en route to a .223/.377/.488 showing through 151 PA. Avila’s a soon-to-be 33-year-old who has extreme difficulty against same-handed pitchers, so he’s not going to come at a high price.
- Russell Martin, Dodgers: Martin has been one of the premier catchers in baseball for a large portion of his career, which began in 2006, but the 36-year-old’s offensive efficacy is fading. The always patient Martin has gotten on base at a .330 clip this year, though his average is barely above the Mendoza line, his slugging percentage is a point under .300 and his ISO is below .100. At the very least, though, Martin’s a still-useful defender and a well-respected teammate.
- Jonathan Lucroy, Cubs: Lucroy may be able to get a major league contract in the offseason, as he did when the Cubs signed him this month after the Angels released him, but his days as a viable starter are clearly over. Formerly an elite all-around backstop, the 33-year-old falls well short as a hitter and defender nowadays. However, Lucroy’s modest-looking line of .245/.313/368 in 300 PA does amount to an 83 wRC+, which is roughly average relative to his position.
- Matt Wieters, Cardinals: Dubbed “Mauer with Power” during his days as a super-prospect with the Orioles, Wieters has seldom lived up to the hype in the majors. Wieters was a legit starter for a while, granted, but the 33-year-old’s now amid his second straight season as a part-timer. The 33-year-old has been a usable backup at the plate, evidenced by his .219/.272/.439 line and 10 HRs through 169 PA, though his numbers are hardly great (or even good). Wieters’ defensive output – at least by the advanced metrics – has also continued to lag. He has, however, thrown out an eye-popping 44 percent of would-be base-stealers. But Wieters had to settle for a minors deal last winter after a similarly productive 2018, and he may have to do the same during the upcoming winter.
- Welington Castillo, White Sox: This season has been an utter disaster for Castillo, a normally decent hitter who currently owns a .203/.270/.368 line with minus-1.0 fWAR over 200 trips to the plate. Castillo’s technically not a surefire free agent, as the White Sox hold an $8MM club option for him for 2020, but they’ll decline it in favor of a $500K buyout. While Castillo, now 32, secured a two-year, $15MM guarantee last time he reached the open market, a major league contract may not be a lock this time around.
- Francisco Cervelli, Braves: As with Castillo, Cervelli’s a once-successful backstop who’s coming off a sizable contract (three years, $31MM). The Pirates released Cervelli from that deal last week, though he quickly landed on his feet on a majors pact with the Braves. Whether he’ll haul in another guaranteed pact in the offseason is up in the air. After all, the 33-year-old has a long history of concussion issues – a brain injury has shelved him for most of this season – and hasn’t been productive in 2019. Cervelli’s just a .220/.298/.314 hitter with a single HR in 132 trips this year.
- Stephen Vogt, Giants: The switch-hitting Vogt has somewhat quietly been one of the majors’ best comeback stories this season. A two-time All-Star with the Athletics from 2013-17, Vogt missed all of last season with the Brewers because of what looked like career-threatening shoulder problems. He didn’t give up, though, returning to the Bay Area in the offseason on a non-guaranteed deal with the Giants. They brought Vogt up May 1, and all he has done since then is slash .275/.329/.523 with eight homers and a personal-high .249 ISO in 222 PA. Between that and his highly regarded behind-the-scenes presence, the soon-to-be 35-year-old Vogt will draw offseason interest, though a major league deal could be difficult to land.
- Austin Romine, Yankees: Romine has been stuck in the shadow of Gary Sanchez in New York, but he has been a decent offensive backup twice in a row. The 30-year-old has overcome a glacial start this season to post a .268/.290/.408 line in 187 PA, though he has drawn walks at just a 3.2 percent clip. While the FRAA metric graded Romine favorably from 2017-18, he has been a minus in that category this season. Still, whether with the Yankees or another team, the 30-year-old figures to get a guaranteed contract in the winter.
Iffy Option Decisions:
- Yan Gomes, Nationals: Gomes, a former Indian, was in the throes of an abysmal season as recently as mid-July, but he’s starting to heat up. Will it be enough for the Nationals to pick up his option for $9MM and not buy him out for $1MM? We’ll see. The overall line of .219/.325/.342 with six homers in 274 PA obviously isn’t what the Nats had in mind when they acquired Gomes, nor is the mediocre defense he has given them. However, if Washington does turn down the option, it’s doubtful the 32-year-old Gomes will have much trouble finding work in the offseason.
Get rid of Flowers, get rid of McCann.
Resign Francisco Cervelli!
Get a good starter, and then maybe they will finally win their first NLDS series in 2020 since 2001.
The Mariners have a couple good catchers I’m sure they’d let a team over pay for.
Vogt is not a switch-hitter, bats LH. (Did he ever?)
am i the only one not impressed with Grandal’s output? he started strong but has been his normal self since then.
No not at all I would even go as far as him being partially the reason the pitchers regressed. Personally he calls a poor game and all the pitchers have a better output with Pina. I would honestly say that Romine and D’ Arnaud will be the the quality signings of the free agency otherwise teams need to go out and try to trade for some of these upcoming catchers and take your lumps with the learning curve.
Say what now? He calls a poor game? Man, you are absolutely Clueless.
I guess it’s a good thing that his “normal self” is easily one of the best catchers in baseball, especially offensively.
It would be interesting to see the competition for free agents catchers if J.T. Realmuto and James McCann were also in the market this offseason rather than the following winter when their arbitration eligibility ends.
Realmuto would clearly be the top draw considering he possesses the highest 2019 bWAR of 3.9 and is the youngest at 28 years old.
McCann has had a breakout season with the White Sox posting a 3.1 bWAR at 29.
Grandal has matched Realmuto’s 2.9 oWAR but his overall bWAR metric of 2.1 lags behind both because of his -0.2 dWAR. Grandal is also the eldest of the three at 30.
Wouldn’t really be that interesting. Mccann is #3 by a long shot. Realmuto is generally seen as a better D catcher than Grandal so he’d be #1. Either option would be significantly preferred to a one year breakout of James mcann. Who has huge regression signs.
I know you’re a Sox fan and all but he belongs nowhere near the conversation.m .The owner of a 374 BABIP and a .328 XWOBA. For comparison’s sake Realmhto has a .348xWOBA and Grandal has a .356. Both w reasonable BABIP’s for there profile.
McCann is better than he used to be but he will regress in coming seasons. He’s not realmuto or Grandal
And I missed mentioning his K rate which has actually worsened this season. While his walk rate has stagnated. You mention bWAR (which personally I don’t like at all but that’s fine). fWAR has Realmuto and Grandal above 4.5 WAR while Mccann is at 2.1.
I think Mccann is significantly closer to the Castro/D’Arnaud (above average starter) level than Realmuto or /Grandal..
All that being said, I fully expect the White Sox to pass on Yasmani Grandal this offseason. I expect them to roll with James McCann as their primary catcher in 2020 and monitor his progress as they consider a contract extension.
Left-handed power bat Zack Collins will also be on the roster as a backup catcher along with getting an opportunity to spell a returning Jose Abreu at 1B while also DH’ing some versus right-handed pitching. With active rosters increasing to 26 next season I look for the White Sox to carry 3 catchers, perhaps from among right-handed bats Yermin Mercedes or Seby Zavala. This would afford the team more opportunity for Collins bat to be in the lineup along with perhaps that of Mercedes as a right-handed DH option. This would be more easily facilitated by having two other versatile reserves on the roster from among Leury Garcia, Yolmer Sanchez, Danny Mendick and Ryan Goins.
If the production of their 2020 catchers is subpar I would then expect the White Sox to make a serious run at free agent J.T. Realmuto the following offseason. In the meantime, they could concentrate on allocating their FA dollars this winter to a veteran starting pitcher to help anchor a young starting rotation. I also fully expect the White Sox to pursue an impacting left-handed bat this winter, most likely a right-fielder via the trade route with so few available in the upcoming FA market. Another possibility would be to pursue lefty shortstop FA bat Didi Gregorius and consider moving Tim Anderson to the OF. Anderson has taken a step backward with his SS defense this season but his bat, speed and attitude are still needed going forward.
One factor that WAR can’t quantify is the contribution that James McCann has made with the White Sox young pitchers in 2019, particularly Lucas Giolito. The White Sox will want to continue that in 2020 and hope that McCann will have a similar impact upon Dylan Cease in his first full MLB season as well as with Michael Kopech who is returning from his TJ surgery.
Not a single team will complain about having a normal Grandal on an $18m one-year deal.
ATTENTION: Vogt is not, nor ever was, a switch hitter
Tigers should bring back Avila. He would be a great mentor for Rogers and offers some left handedness to their lineup.
Avila “ again performed well with the bat” ? He hit 165 last year. Connor do you even look at the stats before writing this garbage?
Do you actually read before posting this garbage crazylarry?
“He has been a better-than-average defender two years running, per BP’s FRAA metric, and has yet again performed well with the bat. ”
So what the writer is saying is that he was a better than average defender in both 2018 and 2019. He goes on to say that he performed well with the bat in 2019, like he has in the past. He does not imply that he performed well with the bat specifically in 2018.
Funny when people flip out over a mistake, even funnier when they are the ones who were mistaken
Vogt will resign with the Giants for 2020, Book it………….
Sad to see the falloff Lucroy has had.
There’s no crying in baseball.
The quality of Catcher across baseball has dropped significantly over the last 10 years.
The Astros will need two catchers. Grandal is probably too pricey. I will wonder what they’re going to do.
They needed catching going into this year, and they’ve done quite well there. They seem to always get what they need, without salivating like Pavlov’s Rotisserie Dog over the priciest big name out there.
He won’t be if the Astros win a ring this year. Cole is probably a goner and off the books.
While I know his defense was subpar at best and there wasn’t the technology for metrics like framing, the demands of catching seem to create such a lower bar on the offensive side that I have more appreciation for truly excellent hitting catchers like Piazza, Fisk, or Bench. Missing Piazza’s opposite field power makes me realize that I’m old.
His* being Piazza’s defense.
The grimace, and the rare out-of-the-park HR at Dodger Stadium make it one of those golden 90’s occurrences.