Welcome to the first installment of INSC’s MLB Free Agency Positional Breakdown! To start things off, we will be taking a closer look at this year’s crop of free-agent catchers. We will be taking a look at the list of names, what they bring to the table, where they could end up and which teams could be looking for catching help.
So for us to get into any analysis, we are going to need a list of upcoming free agents. It just so happens that mlbtraderumors.com formulates such a list every season. If you would like to access their full list of upcoming free agents, you can take a look right here. From that full list, here are the catchers who are poised to be free agents at the conclusion of this season’s World Series!
Alex Avila (30)
Drew Butera (34)
Jason Castro (30)
A.J. Ellis (36)
Ryan Hanigan (36) — $3.75MM club option with an $800K buyout
Nick Hundley (33)
Chris Iannetta (34) — $4.25MM club option
Jonathan Lucroy (31) — $5.25MM club option with a $25K buyout
Jeff Mathis (34)
Dioner Navarro (33)
A.J. Pierzynski (40)
Wilson Ramos (29)
Carlos Ruiz (38) — $4.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (32)
Geovany Soto (34)
Kurt Suzuki (33)
Matt Wieters (31)
When scanning through this list, the name that likely jumps out immediately is Jonathan Lucroy of the Texas Rangers. Do not get your hopes up, though, as the Rangers gave a ton up to acquire him this season, and his option is not nearly as much as he would make on the open market. Thus he is a virtual lock to have his option picked up, and will not be on the market.
So now that is cleared up, let’s take a closer look. There are only a handful of names who could be viewed as starting caliber catchers out there this winter. Wilson Ramos and Matt Wieters are clearly the top two names, but Ramos is going to be dealing with a major injury that could seriously drop his value. Despite poor numbers, Jason Castro could land a starting job, as could Dioner Navarro. The rest of the crop is poised to be backups somewhere at best.
Let’s start with the interesting case that is Wilson Ramos. Back on September 26th, Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee. It is also possible he could have a torn meniscus, which would increase the amount of time he misses. As things stand right now, Ramos could very easily miss a month or two with the current injury, which means he will come at some discount. Ramos himself has even said this injury might force him from the National League. The knee injury may or may not cost be the thing that costs Ramos his catching career. But for 2017, he likely ends up with an AL team to serve as a DH. This could lead to his market being fairly wide open, with teams such as the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and the Chicago White Sox being among possible suitors.
That leaves Matt Wieters as the top option for a team looking to upgrade behind the dish. The 30-year-old catcher hit 17 homers this season after accepting the qualifying offer. Last offseason it was rumored that the Atlanta Braves were set to pursue the Georgia native before he accepted the Orioles offer. Given the club is set to enter a new ballpark and are on record as saying they want to make a splash this offseason, Wieters to the Braves is certainly a strong possibility. The Orioles likely will not let him simply walk away, however, as they have no clear replacement for him. He was in a very similar position last year as the top catcher, so is it possible he goes back on another qualifying offer? I would say doubtful, but one cannot rule it out completely. Other possible options Seattle, Washington, and the White Sox.
It speaks to how weak the market is when Jason Castro is the next best options. He hit .210 with 11 home runs in 113 games this season. The Houston Astros are certainly a possibility to look at retaining his services. But teams like the Mariners, Angels, Braves and Nationals could certainly look to add him as he will not cost all that much.
Dioner Navarro is the type of guy who can supply a little power. If a team signs him as their starter, they are not likely to be contenders. But if he signs on for some platoon, pinch hitter type of role, it could work. He needs to be used in small doses to be effective and is best off in the American League to where he can DH every so often.
Now let’s take a quick look at some of the other names. AJ Pierzynski will either return to the Atlanta Braves or retire. Kurt Suzuki will catch on with someone, but it should only be as a backup. Ryan Hanigan and Chris Iannetta are good bets to have their options declined, while Carlos Ruiz is a toss-up. AJ Ellis will make for a good guy to bring in for a club with a young pitching staff.
As far as teams in need of catchers. In regards to starters, the Nationals, Orioles, Braves, White Sox, Twins and Astros could all be loosing their current starter. Teams like the Mariners, Rays, Red Sox, Angels, Tigers, and Brewers could all be looking for an upgrade. Most teams could be in the market for a backup, meaning those secondary names could wind up virtually anywhere, except of a few teams who have two guys locked in already.
So there is certainly no lack in needing catchers, meaning the fight for the few starters that are out there. The Braves are the early favorites to land the top fish in the pond, after being linked to Wieters a year ago. But will it come to fruition after Wieters shocked the baseball world last season? Only time will tell.
Be sure to check back tomorrow when we go over the first base market! If you have not already, check out the Positional Breakdown Series Preview page to see what date we will look at each position, with links available upon the release of those articles. You can check that page out right here.