It’s probably not a surprise, even if the team has already been more active at the catcher’s position than just about any other on the diamond. While they let their everyday catcher in 2016, walk without tendering him a contract, they did sign Jeff Mathis to a two-year deal, and also picked up a younger alternative, Juan Graterol, on waivers from the Cincinnati Reds. According to Hazen, a three-way split - with Chris Herrman probably another side of the triangle - is the most likely scenario, and Oscar Hernandez is a further possibility. He says, “If we found more of a long-term replacement for the position it could morph into something different... It’s a better bet that comes via the trade market than the free-agent market.”
Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities in each area.
Some big names have already been crossed off the board. Jason Castro signed a three-year deal for $24.5 million with the Minnesota Twins; Wilson Ramos got two years from the Rays, and an incentive-heavy contract that could be worth up to $18.5 million. Castillo, of course, joined the Orioles on a one-year, $6 million deal, with a player option at $7 million for next season.
The top name left in the market would be Matt Wieters - he was with Baltimore last season, so it would certainly be ironic if he ended up as a free-agent with the Diamondbacks, while Beef went in the opposite direction. His name was brought up to Hazen, who replied, “Anyone still left on the market makes sense in some circumstances. Matt’s a really good player and a good leader.” The main names to have been linked to Wieters this winter are Washington and Atlanta, but the Nationals have already traded for a catcher, getting Derek Norris from the Padres. The Wieters’ market has been slow to develop, with agent Scott Boras apparently looking for a longer-term and more lucrative deal than has yet been offered.
Wieters’ performance over the years has been... merely okay, I’d say. He was worth 1.4 bWAR/1.7 fWAR last season, but that was better by both metrics than he managed in either 2014 or 2015 (when he was in the 0.7-1.0 WAR range). He doesn’t have a particularly good reputation as a pitch framer either, so his signing would seem to go against the apparent philosophy behind the signing of Mathis. He did show decent pop, hitting 17 home-runs in 464 PA, but his on-base percentage barely cracked .300, resulting in an OPS+ of only 87, which was the worst of Wieters’ career.
If the team is looking elsewhere, here’s a list of other potential catcher free-agents, along with their ages:
- Ramon Cabrera, 27
- Ryan Hanigan, 36
- Nick Hundley, 33
- Chris Iannetta, 33
- Dioner Navarro, 32
- A.J. Pierzynski, 40
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 31
- Geovany Soto, 33
- Kurt Suzuki, 33
Anyone there appeal?
The trade market
The team with whom the Diamondbacks have been most often linked so far is the Boston Red Sox, with new GM Mike Hazen apparently looking to cut a deal with his previous employers. The Red Sox do appear to have a bit of a surfeit of catchers of interest. Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon are all potential candidates, though it seems Boston would be better if they could splice the best parts of the trio together, into one uber-catcher. According to our siblings at Over the Monster:
Leon is coming off what might be a breakout 2016 season, but there are enough red flags that it would be entirely unsurprising if we were referring to it as a fluke by 2018. Christian Vazquez brings a strong glove to the table, but has yet to show he can hit well enough to stick. Blake Swihart can hit well enough for a catcher (and perhaps reasonably well in general, given time), but has yet to earn the organization’s trust in his defense. As such, the Sox aren’t expecting to have three viable catchers, but hoping to find one starter and one backup in their three options.
These question marks largely explain why it appears the Red Sox are extremely reluctant to deal. Swihart, in particular, was held out of the Chris Sale trade, even though the White Sox were said to be “fond” of him. Despite the surplus, it seems Boston want to wait and make sure their own needs are filled first. Of course, if one of them were to fall apart, their trade value would drop with it, but that risk is likely preferable to thinning the herd before you know what you’ve got. But it’s also the case that the Red Sox are not going to undervalue any of them at this point.
Of course, Boston aren’t the only team in the majors [though given our front-office staffing, you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise!]. Pinning down alternative options is virtually like throwing darts at the board, so the following list of potential candidates is entirely speculation. I’ve looked mostly for young(ish) second-line catchers, on the basis we’re apparently looking for someone part-time, but have not dug at all into anyone’s particular availability. I figure, it does no harm to ask...
- Austin Romine, Yankees, 28
- Kevan Smith, White Sox, 28
- Tucker Barnhart, Reds, 25
- Carlos Perez, Angels, 26
- John Ryan Murphy, Twins, 25
- Trevor Brown, Giants, 25