The Marlins continue to be in the market for a catching upgrade, reports the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson. Skipper Don Mattingly more or less confirmed that’ll be a priority this winter, responding to questions about the team’s incumbent catching situation, noting that “It’s an area we’re looking at. It’s fairly safe to say it was some kind of message when we grabbed two catchers at the trade deadline.”
Mattingly’s rather plain assessment doesn’t bode well for the team’s current group of catchers, who combined for a wRC+ of 57 that ranked third-worst in all of baseball. Things weren’t much brighter on the defensive side of things either, as the unit posted -6 DRS.
Miami’s starting catcher, Jorge Alfaro, may find himself in the most trouble after posting -9 DRS and a 69 OPS+ over the past two seasons. The former Rangers and Phillies prospect has showed mixed progress in his tenure as a Marlin, as he has incrementally improved his year-over-year hard-hit rate and flashed a cannon that resulted in a 43% caught stealing rate. Still, Alfaro has regularly posted strikeout rates above 30%, has been walking less every year since 2018, and undid some of his defensive good by allowing a league-high 13 passed balls in 2021.
Further working against Alfaro is his rising salary through arbitration, for which he is eligible a second time this offseason. As a smaller market team, Miami is unlikely to dedicate a portion of its payroll to a player who is establishing a pattern of underperformance; a non-tender of Alfaro this offseason has seemed likely for quite some time.
With Alfaro’s stock dipping and #2 catcher Sandy Leon unlikely to be retained as well, the Marlins have playing time to spare at the position. In-house candidates include the aforementioned deadline pickups: Alex Jackson and Payton Henry. The former wasn’t able to replicate his most recent 1.060 OPS Triple-A performance while the latter couldn’t build on a more modest .741 OPS performance across the minors last year. Another Miami catcher, Nick Fortes, impressed offensively in a 14-game debut but also carries a limited track record of offensive prowess in the minors.
General manager Kim Ng and CEO Derek Jeter suggested last week the club anticipated dipping into the free agent market to address the team’s lackluster offense. As MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald recently explored, however, the upcoming offseason offers a very thin crop of options behind the dish.
That could suggest Miami’s more likely to turn to the trade market to add help from outside the organization. The Fish had some discussions with the Cubs regarding Willson Contreras last offseason, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the sides revisited those talks this winter with Chicago having torn down the big league roster substantially in recent months. Contreras is only one season away from free agency, though, and it’s arguable the Miami front office should focus more on longer-term options coming off a 67-95 campaign.
Turning to some other plausible trade candidates, teams figure to call the Diamondbacks regarding Carson Kelly and the Pirates about Jacob Stallings this winter, although it’s not clear either player will be made available. Both Arizona and Pittsburgh look hard-pressed to contend in 2022, but there’s no indication either of Kelly or Stallings proved attainable at this past summer’s trade deadline.
Kelly got off to a scorching start to the year before he fractured his wrist on a hit-by-pitch in mid-June. His production absolutely cratered upon his return, with the injury seemingly having a lingering impact on his power. It’d be relatively easy for Miami (or any other club) to talk themselves into Kelly regaining his early-season form after an offseason to recover, although the D-Backs’ front office may prefer to hang onto Kelly into next season in anticipation of a bounceback themselves. He’s entering his second of four years of arbitration eligibility and will be entitled to a raise on this season’s $1.7MM salary.
Stallings has been one of the game’s most reliable defensive catchers for the past few seasons. The 31-year-old rather remarkably didn’t commit a single passed ball in 892 innings last season (which would make for a marked change from Alfaro’s receiving issues). He also hit at a solid level for a catcher (.246/.335/.369 over 427 plate appearances). That’d make him an appealing trade target, but Stallings comes with an additional three seasons of arbitration control himself and Pittsburgh hasn’t seem inclined to move him in the past.
The Fish could also look into more creative trade possibilities. The Blue Jays have a glut of young catchers at or near the big league level; the Twins could make Mitch Garver available to open more regular playing time for Ryan Jeffers; the Mariners might listen on one of Tom Murphy or Luis Torrens with prospect Cal Raleigh at the big league level. It seems highly likely the Marlins will make some form of addition behind the plate, with Mattingly’s assessment of the situation only lending further credence to the idea of a forthcoming shakeup at the position.