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Arizona Diamondbacks spring training questions, #3: Backup catcher

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This is, at least, a bit better situation than it was at this point last season, when we weren't sure who was going to be our starting catcher either.

A rare photo of Geardl Laird wearing a Diamondbacks uniform.
A rare photo of Geardl Laird wearing a Diamondbacks uniform.
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Particularly early on in the season, the catching position was a state of flux for Arizona. Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez began the season on the disabled list, thanks to a broken hamate bone in his left hand, and it wasn't long before he was joined there by Opening Day backup, Gerald Laird. He managed to last a grand total of 4.1 innings in the field before lower back spasms led to his departure - he never returned. Jordan Pacheco took over, only for frontline catcher Tuffy Gosewisch to go down with a knee issue. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, snagged on waivers from Miami, took over, becoming the fourth catcher to start for us - and we weren't even at the end of May.

However, three days into June, we made the trade which turned the position from the baseball version of re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic, into a position of strength, acquiring Welington Castillo from the Mariners. Stability returned for the rest of the season: Salty became the regular backup, he and Beef combining to start 104 of the 111 games after that point - the others being token starts for Oscar Hernandez, who came back from the DL to complete his Rule 5 obligated season on the roster with the absolute bare minimum 90 days, enjoying a total of 77.1 innings on the field for the Diamondbacks. .

2016 should see Castillo again receive the lion's share of the starts, but the question of who gets to back him up is undecided. Saltalamacchia is not an option for 2016, having signed a one-year deal at the major-league minimum as a back-up (and now, play alongside Justin Upton!) on the Detroit Tigers. The D-backs did make a move to acquire a catcher, trading prospect Daniel Palka to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Chris Herrmann, who made 32 starts for the Twins last season, as understudy to Kurt Suzuki. So, let's take a look at all the potential candidates.

Tuffy Gosewisch

Poor Tuffy. After making an Opening Day roster for the first time ever, at age 31, his season was ended after only 38 appearances. And the full tear of the left ACL responsible is among the worst injuries a catcher can have, as their knees take a brutal pounding at the best of times, magnifying the impact of any weakness. It's still unclear whether or not when he'll be ready to take the field again; we'll probably know something once pitchers and catchers report, which is four weeks tomorrow. While he'd probably be a solid option, his defensive abilities meshing well with Beef's more offensive-minded game, the silence on his rehab suggests he may not be back for Opening Day.

Chris Hermann

While Hermann has solid recent experience in the role, filling the backup spot with the Twins in both 2014 and 2015, the main issue is, he makes Tuffy look like Babe Ruth. During the past two years, among the 488 major-leaguers with 190+ PA, Herrmann's OPS+ ranks 484th. His line is .174 /.230/.264, for an OPS+ of just 36 during his 78 games for Minnesota; over the same time and virtually the same number of appearances for Arizona (79), Gosewisch's OPS+ has been 50. Consequently, his value in 2014-2015 was 0.6 wins below replacement (bWAR or fWAR). Got to think we can do better than that in 2016.

Oscar Hernandez

It's hard to be sure what we have with Hernandez, since he was the hidden man on the roster. He had a brief spurt of five starts in a week at the end of July, but over the final third of the 2015 campaign, Oscar made precisely zero starts, got 11 plate appearances and played about 20 innings behind the plate. Not many major-leaguers get sent to the Arizona Fall League, but in Hernandez's case, it made sense for him to get the chance to do more than ride the pine. He had never played above A-ball before last season, and since he's still only 22, it wouldn't surprise me if he ends up sent to Double-A Mobile so his development can continue at a more age-appropriate level.

Free agent signing or trade?

Last year, we picked up Gerald Laird late, into February, but the list of potential candidates for something similar in 2016 is perilously short - not that it was ever great this off-season, to begin with. MLB Trade Rumors lists just three unsigned free-agent catchers left on the market at time of writing: Carlos Corporan, Wilin Rosario and Hector Sanchez. Of that trio, Rosario counts as a catcher about as much as I do, and I think Sanchez actually already signed with the White Sox.  Even Corporan didn't appear after the All-Star break, thanks to a thumb injury, that required surgery in October. A minor-league contract would be about all that seems justified.

I can't see the team making another deal for a backup catcher, having already gone down that route for Herrmann. Presuming Gosewisch is not ready, I suspect we may see how Herrmann and Hernandez perform in spring training, and in the not-unlikely event of them being unable to hit their way out of a sodden paper-bag, we could end up looking on the waiver wire for someone who can act as a place-holder, until Tuffy is able to strap on the gear once more.