Tomorrow is the deadline for the D-backs to decide which of their arbitration-eligible players will be tendered contracts for 2020. If they want, they can simply let the players concerned walk, becoming free agents eligible to sign for anyone, for whatever they can negotiate. While Jake Lamb and Steven Souza are the two most obvious contenders, and have already been discussed, the signing of Steven Vogt leaves fellow catcher Caleb Joseph facing a bit of an uncertain future. It’s clear that Vogt will work in tandem with primary catcher Carson Kelly. But will the team return to a three-catcher set-up, as they have done previously? And if they do, who will be the third player?
The D-backs have operated with three catchers quite frequently over the past couple of seasons. While I see the point of this in theory, the execution seemed not to make the most of the flexibility which was supposed the purpose of it: rarely were all three catchers used in games by Arizona. After the departure of John Ryan Murphy off the roster towards the end of May, they settled instead on a more standard pairing of Kelly and Alex Avila until rosters expanded in September. However, next year sees the expansion of everyday rosters from 25 to 26 players, and that extra spot could give Torey Lovullo the leeway necessary to carry a third catcher again.
I’d largely forgotten that Caleb Joseph had accumulated enough service time to be in his final year of arbitration. But he made his debut back in May 2014, and has been in the majors almost consistently since, albeit rarely in a front-line role. This year was a career low in MLB playing time, and only the second occasion he had appeared in less than half his team’s games. At an estimated salary for next year of $1.2 million, it’s not exactly a bank-breaker. But if Joseph is not going to be on the active roster, that’s a fair amount to pay for someone to sit behind the plate in Reno.
The decision may depend partly on how the team feels about Daulton Varsho. The catching prospect hit .301 with 18 home-runs for Double-A Jackson this year, and was recently ranked as Arizona’s #2 prospect by Fangraphs. However, there are questions about whether he may be able to stick behind the plate. His offense isn’t an issue, to put it mildly, and shifting to another position might be the best long-term solution. Seeing Daulton in the majors this season might also be rather aggressive, and with this being Joseph’s last season of team control, holding onto him isn’t going to pose any significant issues in terms of blocking Varsho. But if Joseph is let go, it may indicate we should expect to see Varsho next year.
Below is a simple yes/no question as to whether you think Joseph should be given a contract by the team for next year. Here’s a link if the embedded version of the form is giving you any grief. And, as ever, feel free to explain your decision below, along with what you think the catching situation for the Diamondbacks will look like in 2020.