The top two catching options on the open market are gone, with the White Sox landing Yasmani Grandal and the Braves securing the services of Travis d’Arnaud. Some others, including Stephen Vogt (Diamondbacks), Tyler Flowers (Braves), and Dustin Garneau (Astros) are also accounted for. But our top 50 free agent list still has a few backstops on it. There are quite a few other veterans out there as well, along with some notable trade candidates.
As we did recently for relievers, let’s canvas the market to see what’s left for those teams with a need behind the dish:
We’ll start at the top. What to make of the rumors that the Cubs are willing to discuss some of their top stars in trades? It’s hard to imagine how the team would improve by dealing away Willson Contreras, even if he hasn’t yet perfected pitch-framing, but it seems there’s a belief that Victor Caratini could be paired with a veteran and perform well in an expanded role. Contreras would presumably only be cashed in if the return is not only compelling from a talent/value perspective, but built around near-term contributors rather than far-away prospects. He’s projected to earn $4.5MM in his first season of arbitration eligibility.
It’ll be interesting to see how that situation plays out. Whether or not a deal is completed, there’ll surely be a good number of teams compiling trade packages to make a run at Contreras. Might those that miss turn their sights elsewhere? And might the Yankees actually consider moving on from Gary Sanchez after another frustrating defensive season? That’s a much more speculative possibility, but it probably can’t be ruled out entirely.
The next tier down includes some very solid options — several of whom have deservedly held down semi-regular playing time. Omar Narvaez has emerged as a trade candidate for the Mariners. He possesses rare hitting ability for a backstop but comes with some defensive questions. The left-handed hitter is a candidate to handle the large side of a platoon.
Another interesting possibility is Jorge Alfaro of the Marlins. The Miami club may prefer to keep him in hopes that he can tap into some upside, and undoubtedly won’t sell low, but he’d also represent a solid target for clubs looking for more offensive punch. He could be seen as a semi-regular piece right out of the chutes who might yet develop into an everyday type.
Teams looking for reliability on the open market have a few clear options remaining. Southpaw swinging free agent Jason Castro is a solid hitter and strong framer. Fellow open market target Robinson Chirinos has a quality stick and has been trusted to play in over a hundred games in each of the past two season. Both are probably best utilized in a 50/50 timeshare but could be tasked with more.
There are some other, somewhat more speculative trade candidates of note to consider. The White Sox obviously aren’t convinced that James McCann can repeat his strong offensive season, but he’d hold appeal elsewhere as a cost-efficient candidate who has now established a new ceiling at the plate. The Padres’ Austin Hedges and Reds’ Tucker Barnhart haven’t really come around fully with the bat but are considered high-quality defenders. Both could be available if their teams make desired upgrades.
Clubs looking for younger, affordable, controllable backstops have a few other players to consider as well. We’ve heard some chatter that the Blue Jays are willing to discuss Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire in trades; presumably, the Orioles would listen to interest in Pedro Severino or Chance Sisco. After falling out of favor in Los Angeles, Austin Barnes is probably available; he’s not especially youthful but is only estimated to command $1.3MM in arbitration and is still affordable, controllable, and versatile.
Turning back to the open market, there’s a strong remaining mix of targets — many of whom have seen quite a lot of MLB action in recent seasons. Francisco Cervelli and Yan Gomes are bounceback candidates. Martin Maldonado is a defensive specialist. Russell Martin or Jonathan Lucroy could supplement and mentor a younger backstop. Chris Iannetta, Alex Avila, and Welington Castillo have had ups and downs but possess more offensive capabilities than most receivers. And Austin Romine has quietly turned in a pair of strong seasons, slashing .262/.302/.428 over his past 505 plate appearances. As ever, there’s a long list of other depth candidates … with H-named backstops featuring prominently among them (Chris Herrmann, John Hicks, Bryan Holaday, Nick Hundley).