The Diamondbacks announced that have claimed catcher Seby Zavala off waivers from the White Sox. The backstop was designated for assignment by the Sox earlier this week. Infielder Buddy Kennedy was designated for assignment in a corresponding move. Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times reported on the Zavala claim prior to the official announcement.
Zavala, 30, served as the backup to Yasmani Grandal for most of this season. His defensive grades have largely been strong in his career and this year has been no exception. His seven Defensive Runs Saved puts him in the top 10 among catchers around the league this year, with most of the others around him having done so with more playing time. He’s also considered to be above-average in terms of pitch framing.
The problem this year has been at the plate, not behind it. Zavala has struck out in 38.7% of his plate appearances and walked at just a 5.7% clip this year. His .155/.207/.304 batting line amounts to a wRC+ of just 34. Among hitters with at least 170 plate appearances this year, only Austin Hedges and Brenton Doyle have worse production by measure of wRC+. Zavala spent about a month on the injured list after suffering an oblique strain in early August but the Sox designated him for assignment when he was done rehabbing instead of adding him back to the roster.
Recent struggles notwithstanding, it’s understandable why the Diamondbacks would be interested. Zavala’s glovework gives him a decent floor and his bat has been better in the past. As recently as last year, he hit .270/.347/.382 for a wRC+ of 111. His 31.2% strikeout rate was still on the high side but he also walked in 9.3% of his plate appearances.
Arizona will bring him aboard and add him to their catching mix. Zavala is out of options and will need to continually justify his active roster spot, but he can be controlled for four more seasons after this one if he does so. Gabriel Moreno is having a solid season and should continue to get the bulk of the playing time, with Zavala sliding into the backup role. Carson Kelly had that gig for a while but was released last month and signed with the Tigers. José Herrera has been in the backup role since then but he is optionable and has subpar numbers both offensively and defensively this year.
Kennedy, 24, was hitting .318/.447/.480 in Triple-A when the Diamondbacks selected his contract last month. He then hit just .167/.310/.208 in the majors and got optioned back down to Reno last week. The club will put him on waivers in the coming days. He’s still optionable and has less than a year of service time, which could appeal to other clubs around the league. But Arizona was able to pass him through outright waivers in November of last year and could do so again. If that were to happen, he would have the right to elect free agency since it would be his second career outright.