It’s an MLBTR tradition to maintain a list of not only the immediately pending group of free agents, but also those next in line. As part of the festivities, a certain number of folks fail to read the headline and prefatory language closely, thus prompting vehement protestations about players wrongly included or excluded.
To forestall that outcome to the extent possible, we just ran through the full 2020-21 free agent class on a position-by-position basis. (Catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, third basemen, corner outfielders, center fielders, designated hitters, starting pitchers, lefty relievers and righty relievers.) Please explore those lists for the players who’ll be on the open market after the 2020 season.
What follows is a list of certain players — specifically, catchers — who are presently slated to qualify for free agency after the 2021 season. We’ve already run through the amazing group of shortstops in that class. The backstops don’t feature that kind of unbounded earning power. It’s important also to understand that this list is far from exhaustive, in that many catchers set for free agency in 2020-21 will ultimately ink one-year deals that put them back on track to return to the open market post-2021.
This is how the 2021-22 catching market shapes up at this point (season-age for 2022; alphabetical order within category):
Top of the Class
- Salvador Perez (32): One of the game’s true workhorses behind the dish, Perez missed the 2019 season with Tommy John surgery. But the respite could conceivably enhance his long-term outlook after averaging 138 games annually over the prior six seasons. Perez’s value is a matter of quite some disagreement. Baseball Prospectus catching grades don’t love his work behind the dish and he’s a roughly average hitter whose best attribute (power) may lead some to overrate his abilities on offense. Fangraphs values his total career contribution at an underwhelming 10 WAR. Per Baseball-Reference’s measures, which give far more credence to Perez’s efforts with the glove, it’s a far more robust 22.1 WAR.
- Buster Posey (35): It’s tough to imagine the Giants will end up exercising a $22MM club option rather than allowing Posey to test the open market with a $3MM buyout on his way out. Posey is a historically important member of the San Francisco organization, but there’s hope his eventual replacement (Joey Bart) is already nearing the majors. More importantly, the decline has been precipitous for the once-great Posey. Long a well-above-average hitter, he drooped in 2018 and fell off a cliff last year, when he posted a .257/.320/.368 slash line. The good news here is that Posey remains a high-quality performer behind the dish. And he may have been unlucky at the plate; Statcast credits him with a .315 xwOBA but he managed only a .298 wOBA. Given the talent level, it’s too soon to rule out a late-career surge.
Other Regulars (based upon 2019 playing time)
- Roberto Perez (33): If the Indians end up picking up their cheap option over Perez for 2021, he’d be on track to hit free agency in the ensuing winter. If he can keep up last year’s league-average offensive output, the defensive standout might have a run of success as a near-everyday option.
- Wilson Ramos (34): Another player covered by a club option in 2021, Ramos is a bat-first backstop who seems destined for an eventual return to the American League for the later stage of his career. He graded poorly in the field in 2019, when he carried a big workload for the Mets, but he has historically fared rather well with the glove. Durability remains an ongoing issue as well.
Top Timeshare Candidates
- Tucker Barnhart (31): The Reds will have to decide between a $7.5MM club option and $500K buyout. Barnhart is a solid performer behind the plate and could function well as a half-time player for some time to come. The switch-hitter has a palatable 90 wRC+ against right-handed pitching.
- Travis d’Arnaud (33): A strong bounceback 2019 season earned d’Arnaud a two-year deal with the Braves. He isn’t likely to turn into a full everyday receiver, having only once topped four hundred plate appearances in a season.
- Yan Gomes (34): While he’s a steady hand in the field, Gomes wasn’t able to match his solid 2018 offensive work in the 2019 season. The Nats still liked him well enough as a timeshare guy to offer a two-year pact.
- Martin Maldonado (35): The bat is never going to be a strength, but Maldonado is a trusted hand. He keeps finding himself in demand at the trade deadline.
- Manny Pina (34): Pina is a somewhat underappreciated contributor. He performs well with the mask on and doesn’t hurt too much on offense, where he’s a career 90 wRC+ performer.