In a recent post, I looked at some potential landing spots for Willson Contreras, should the Cubs decide to move him. A few commenters expressed surprise that the Marlins weren’t on the list. While it’s true that Miami could use a new backstop, and has been rumored to have interest in Contreras in the past, my logic for leaving them off the list was that I expect they will target a catcher with more control than Contreras, who would be a pure rental. While it’s possible they could trade for Contreras and then sign him to an extension, that wouldn’t be cheap, especially for a club that has been stripping payroll down in recent years. It seems more likely that they will target a catcher that matches their current core.
With Jazz Chisholm Jr., Bryan De La Cruz, Jesus Sanchez, Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers, Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez, Jesus Luzardo and others, the club has a solid core of players that are between the ages of 23 and 27, and all come with at least three years of control. They also have five prospects on both the MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs Top 100, as well as six on Baseball America’s list. The club has everything in place to open a competitive window soon, but after going 67-95 in 2021, it’s probably too soon to be going after a win-now piece like Contreras.
In the first few months of 2021, most of Miami’s playing time behind the plate went to Jorge Alfaro, Sandy Leon and Chad Wallach. With none of those three locking down the job, the club acquired a couple of catchers at the trade deadline, trading Adam Duvall to Atlanta for Alex Jackson as well as sending John Curtiss to Milwaukee for Payton Henry. Down the stretch, Jackson was given 30 starts as a catcher and Henry got five, but neither did enough to secure the position. Nick Fortes played better than both of them, but in a small sample of just 14 games that doesn’t align with his minor league track record. The position still seems to be wide open with the club looking for outside upgrades, as manager Don Mattingly admitted when discussing the situation a few weeks ago. But since there’s a weak free agent class and the Marlins have about a dozen viable starting pitchers, there should be plenty of avenues for trade discussions this winter. Let’s dig into some options.
Blue Jays: The Canadian birds are loaded with young, cheap, controllable catchers, with varying degrees of appeal. Danny Jansen is entering his age-27 season, which will be his first of three arbitration years. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz recently projected his salary will be a modest $1.5MM. He dealt with various injuries in 2021 and only got into 70 games, but hit 11 home runs in that time and slashed .223/299/.473, producing a wRC of 105 and 1.4 fWAR. Reese McGuire got a lot of playing time when Jansen was hurt, getting into 78 games and hitting .253/.310/.343, for a wRC+ of 78 and 1.3 fWAR. He’ll turn 27 in March, has just over two years of service time and is therefore one season away from arbitration and four away from free agency. Alejandro Kirk also spent some time on the IL and only got into 60 games. He hit .242/.328/.436 for a wRC+ of 106 and 0.7 fWAR. He’ll turn 23 in November and has five years of team control remaining. On top of those three MLB-ready options, the club also has one of the best catching prospects in the majors in Gabriel Moreno. Baseball America lists him as the 8th overall prospect and the second-highest catcher, behind only Adley Rutschman. MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs both have him as the 32nd overall prospect. Though he hasn’t reached the big leagues yet, he finished 2021 at Triple-A and will be appearing in this year’s Arizona Fall League. With the Blue Jays losing Robbie Ray and Steven Matz to free agency, they could perhaps part with one of these catchers in exchange for one of the dozen or so starting pitchers that the Marlins have to offer.
Atlanta: Travis d’Arnaud recently signed an extension, agreeing to stay in Atlanta through at least 2023, with a club option for 2024. With d’Arnaud seemingly lined up to be the go-to catcher for the next few years, that could put a squeeze on some of the other options in the organization. William Contreras is still a few months away from his 24th birthday but has gotten into 56 big-league games already. In that time, he’s hit .225/.308/.405, for a wRC+ of 89. He has six years of team control remaining. Waiver claim Chadwick Tromp is on hand as a depth option. And then there’s Shea Langeliers, the club’s best catching prospect. Baseball America ranks him the 68th best overall prospect in baseball, MLB Pipeline has him 69th, and FanGraphs ranks him 52nd. He played most of this season at Double-A and even got into five Triple-A games. Despite already trading Alex Jackson to Miami a few months ago, they might be able to do line up on another deal.
Tigers: Eric Haase had a breakout campaign in 2021, his age-28 season. In 98 games, he bopped 22 homers and produced an overall line of .231/.286/.429, wRC+ of 100 and 1.0 fWAR. He has five years of team control remaining. Jake Rogers was enjoying a nice breakout before an injury shut him down, eventually leading to Tommy John surgery, which will keep him out for at least part of the 2022 campaign. In 38 games in 2021 before the injury, he hit .239/.306/.496, wRC+ of 115 and 1.0 fWAR. He also has five years of team control remaining. The club also has Dustin Garneau and Grayson Greiner on hand, who both made decent contributions in their limited action in 2021. There’s also the Dillon Dingler factor, as the prospect finished the season at Double-A. FanGraphs lists him as the 73rd-best prospect in baseball. Given all these competent options, they could subtract someone and still feel good about their situation behind the plate. Perhaps Miami would be willing to take on Rogers and give Alex Jackson a chance to prove himself until Rogers is healthy. Although they’ve been in rebuild mode for a few years, it seems like the Tigers will attempt to return to contention in 2022. They have lots of intriguing young arms but lost Wily Peralta to free agency and may not get anything from Spencer Turnbull or Matthew Boyd next year because of injuries. One of those Miami arms would make a great fit in Detroit.
Padres: The Friars have a couple of adequate catchers in the majors, Victor Caratini and Austin Nola. Caratini had a down year in 2021 but still has passable numbers of the past few campaigns. From 2019 to 2021, his overall line is .244/.327/.368, wRC+ of 86. 2022 will be his second of three arbitration years, with MLBTR projecting a salary of $2.1MM for the 28-year-old. Nola, on the other hand, is still a year away from arbitration and has four years of team control remaining. In 183 games over the past three seasons, his slash line is .271/.345/.435, for a wRC+ of 114 and 4.2 fWAR. And the picture gets crowded when we consider Luis Campusano. He’s ranked as the 32nd prospect in baseball by Baseball America, 37th by MLB Pipeline and 15th by FanGraphs. The 23-year-old has already had a cup of coffee at the majors, getting into 12 games for San Diego. Since they are running franchise-record payrolls of late, trading a catcher could be a way to upgrade their roster without breaking the bank.
Twins: Even with a terrible showing in the shortened 2020 campaign, Mitch Garver is still on a solid four-year run for the Twins. From 2018-2021, his line is .259/.344/.501, wRC+ of 125 and 6.3 fWAR. He has two seasons of team control remaining and is projected by MLBTR to earn $3.1MM in arbitration next year. Ryan Jeffers had a solid debut in 2020, but took a bit of a step backward in 2021. However, he’s still only 24 years old and comes with five years of control. His overall slash line between 2020 and 2021 is .221/.285/.407, producing a wRC+ of 88 and 1.1 fWAR in 111 games. They also have Ben Rortvedt on hand, who made his debut in 2021. He didn’t show much with the bat, but it was a small sample size of 39 games, and he has much better offensive numbers in the minors. He just turned 24 and has six years of team control remaining. He’s also left-handed, with Garver and Jeffers both being righties. 2021 was an awful campaign for the Twins but all indicators suggest they’re hoping to immediately return to competing in 2022. The rotation lost Jose Berrios to trade, Michael Pineda to free agency and Kenta Maeda to injury, leaving plenty of room for a new acquisition.
Pirates: Pittsburgh hopes that its catcher of the future is Henry Davis, which is why they selected him first overall in the 2021 MLB draft. Baseball America ranks him as the 44th best prospect in baseball, MLB Pipeline 22nd and FanGraphs 27th. He’s likely still a few years away from reaching the big leagues, but the Pirates aren’t expected to compete in the interim. They could easily subtract someone like Jacob Stallings and sign a cheap veteran to take his place. Stallings turns 32 in December and has three years of club control remaining. As a Super Two player, he’s already gone through arbitration once, making $1.3MM in 2021. MLBTR projects he will double that to $2.6MM for 2022. He generally hits just below league average but adds value with his excellent defense. For instance, his 2021 slash line was .246/.335/.369, for a wRC+ of 95. But because of his defensive contributions, he was worth 2.6 fWAR on the year, which was double his previous best. One of the worst teams in baseball this season, the Pirates will be looking to stockpile as much young talent as they can in order to return to contention.
White Sox: Yasmani Grandal is entrenched as the primary catcher for the Pale Hose as he still has two years left on his contract. Yermin Mercedes had a tantalizing showing with the bat at the start of the season, but got squeezed out of playing time and eventually optioned down to the minors. Even when Grandal was on the injured list, the playing time went primarily to Seby Zavala and Zack Collins. In 68 games at the big-league level this year, Mercedes hit .271/.328/.404, for a wRC+ of 102. In 59 Triple-A games, the production was similar, as he slashed .275/.318/.464, wRC+ of 106. There was some scuttlebutt that Mercedes was unhappy with the organization, and he even briefly retired in July, only to quickly return. Perhaps a change of scenery would be beneficial to all parties. Mercedes will turn 29 in February but has six years of team control remaining. The White Sox have a solid rotation but will be losing Carlos Rodon to free agency.
Diamondbacks: Similar to the Pirates, the Diamondbacks are coming off a terrible year and probably considering any veteran-for-prospect arrangement they can find. Carson Kelly is coming off his first of four arbitration seasons as a Super Two player, just like the aforementioned Jacob Stallings. However, Kelly is much younger, as he just turned 27 in July. He made $1.7MM in 2021 and is projected by MLBTR to make $3MM in 2022, with two years of team control after that. Over his three seasons in the desert, he’s hit .239/.333/.435, for a wRC+ of 99 and 3.8 fWAR.
Mariners: The Mariners have a bit of a crowd behind the plate. Tom Murphy is the most experienced of the bunch, as he has just over four years’ service time. Luis Torrens had a nice season in 2021, his age-25 campaign. He hit 15 homers and slashed .243/.299/.431 for a wRC+ of 101. He has four years of team control remaining. Cal Raleigh made his MLB debut in 2021. Although he didn’t hit much, he’s only 24 years old and has a better offensive track record in the minors. He’ll turn 25 in November and has six years of team control remaining. They also have Jose Godoy on hand as a depth option. The rotation will be without Tyler Anderson next year, as he heads to free agency. There’s also the giant unanswered question of Yusei Kikuchi, who had a great first half but slumped bad enough in the second half to lose his rotation spot. With famously trade-happy president like Jerry Dipoto, perhaps a catching-for-pitching swap could be discussed here.
Giants: Not so long ago, it didn’t seem there was any chance of the Giants picking up their $22MM club option on Buster Posey for 2022. But then 2021 happened. After sitting out the 2020 season, Posey showed didn’t show any rust. In fact, it seemed to rejuvenate him. His slash line on the season was .304/.390/.499, producing a wRC+ of 140, his highest such mark since 2014. Now it seems almost impossible for the club to turn that option down. That means that prospect Joey Bart is blocked for another year. He’s already seen his name floated in trade rumors before, and there was even a false report that he was part of the Kris Bryant trade. But he’s still in the Giants organization for now. Baseball America ranks him the 39th best prospect in baseball, MLB Pipeline 16th and FanGraphs 55th. He’s already gotten a cup of coffee at the majors and comes with six years of club control. He turns 25 years old in December.