The Rangers and Robinson Chirinos are “inching closer” to an agreement on a reunion, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. The news comes less than a week after a report that Chirinos, a client of MDR Sports Management, was nearing a decision.
Chirinos, 35, spent the 2013-18 seasons as the primary catcher for the Rangers but took a one-year, $5.75MM pact with the cross-state Astros last offseason. The Rangers, clearly seeking a defensive upgrade behind the plate, went in a different direction by signing veteran Jeff Mathis to a two-year, $6.25MM deal.
But while Chirinos improved his glovework in Houston and slashed .238/.347/.443 with 17 home runs and a career-high 22 doubles, Mathis turned in the worst season of his career at the plate, mustering just a .158/.209/.224 batting line in 244 plate appearances. Not only did Mathis struggle at the plate, though; he also struggled behind the dish in uncharacteristic fashion. As recently as 2018, no catcher in baseball rated better than Mathis in terms of Defensive Runs Saved (+17) or Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average (+18.4). In 2019, those numbers plummeted to -1 and -2.8, respectively.
Texas still owes Mathis $3MM for the upcoming season after slightly front-loading his contract. However, the Rangers have made a clear shift toward contending in 2020 and may not feel he’s likely to rebound in his age-37 season. Given that their top in-house alternative, Jose Trevino, posted miserable numbers both in the Majors and in Triple-A, an upgrade is a logical next step toward fielding a more competitive roster now that the team has reshaped its rotation. The Rangers have already acquired Corey Kluber from the Indians and signed both Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to multi-year contracts, giving them a trio of new starters to pair with holdovers Mike Minor and Lance Lynn.
Other potential areas of focus surely exist, as Texas could add a corner infielder, find another center field option and look to deepen its bullpen (particularly after moving Emmanuel Clase in the Kluber swap). With a projected $146MM payroll that comes in well shy of the $162MM Opening Day mark they averaged from 2016-17, plus a new stadium on the way, it stands to reason that the Rangers have ample payroll capacity to address multiple remaining needs even if they succeed in bringing Chirinos back aboard.
Following the recent agreement between the Angels and Jason Castro, Chirinos stands out as the last starting-caliber option on the free agent market. If things between him and the Rangers ultimately fail to come together, the organization will be left to rely on internal improvement, bring in another rebound candidate or explore the trade market for alternative options.