The past couple of weeks have seen many of the top layers of the catching market come off the board. The top trade candidate, Sean Murphy, will be moving from Oakland to Atlanta. Four of the best free agents also found new homes, with Willson Contreras joining the Cardinals, Christian Vázquez going to the Twins, Mike Zunino to the Guardians and Omar Narváez to the Mets.
There are still plenty of teams that have either been reported to be seeking an upgrade or make sense for one, including the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Astros, Giants, Pirates, Padres, Tigers, Rays, Angels, Marlins and Red Sox. So, what options do they have left? Let’s take a look.
Sánchez, 30, is generally regarded as a bat-first catcher, having launched 154 home runs in his career so far. His overall batting line is .225/.311/.467, leading to a wRC+ of 109. That indicates he’s been 9% better than the league average hitter, but even further ahead of the average backstop since they tend to produce a bit less with the bat.
The flipside of that potent bat is below-average defense, with Defensive Runs Saved giving him a -8 for his career so far and FanGraphs’ framing metric grading him at -8.0. His 2022 was a bit of a reversal for him, with those defensive grades coming in slightly above average as his offense slipped to .205/.282/.377 (89 wRC+)
Hedges, 30, might be the best defensive catcher in the league but will unfortunately put a hole in a lineup. In 2,001 career plate appearances, he’s hit .189/.247/.331 for a wRC+ of 54. His last four seasons have finished with a wRC+ under 50. However, his 75 DRS since his debut in 2015 is tops in the majors while FanGraphs gives his framing a 64.7 in that time, which trails only Yasmani Grandal and Tyler Flowers.
Pérez, 34 next week, is a similar glove-first option like Hedges, though he’s more likely to be useful at the plate. His career batting line is .207/.298/.360 for a wRC+ of 77. He’s posted double-digit walk rates in each season aside from his 2014 debut for a career clip of 10.8%, though he’s also struck out in 29.7% of his plate appearances. The overall production is inconsistent from year to year, as Perez has thrice finished a season with a wRC+ above 100 but also been below 60 in four seasons.
Defensively, Perez has 79 DRS since his 2014 debut, tops in the majors in that stretch, while his framing is in the top ten at FanGraphs. Injuries are a concern, as he hasn’t played even 55 games in a season since 2019. His 2022 season with the Pirates was wiped out after just 21 contests due to hamstring surgery.
Barnhart, 32 next month, provides a less extreme profile than the others on this list. He’s hit .245/.320/.360 in his career for a wRC+ of 80. He’s never posted a wRC+ higher than 90 but he’s also never finished below 63, apart from his brief debut in 2014. That 63, however, was just this past season with Detroit, when he batted .221/.287/.267.
On the glove side, Barnhart has 12 DRS for his career. That’s well behind Hedges and Perez but still above-average. FanGraphs has graded his framing as poor on the whole, but it bottomed out in 2018 and was above-average in next three seasons before dipping just below in 2022. Although defensive metrics don’t paint him as a lights-out defender, Barnhart has won a pair of Gold Gloves, including in 2017 when he nabbed a league-leading 44% of runners who attempted to swipe a base on his watch.
Alfaro, 30 in June, was once considered one of the top prospects in baseball, with his ability to provide a power bat from the catching position his standout tool. Some of that power has shown up, as he’s hit 47 home runs in 478 games, roughly three seasons’ worth. However, his flaws in other areas have largely gotten in the way. He has -17 DRS in his career so far and below-average framing. He’s also struck out in 34.1% of his plate appearances, negating a lot of the value he provides by actually launching the ball over the fence. His career batting line is .256/.305/.396 for a wRC+ of 89.
There are a few other free agent backstops, though they aren’t likely to move the needle too much, most likely to be signed as backups or depth options. They include Curt Casali, Robinson Chirinos, Kevin Plawecki, Austin Romine and Sandy León.
The Jays have been expected to trade from their catching surplus at some point this winter, though they’ve yet to pull the trigger. It was reported a couple of weeks ago that they were planning to wait until some of the top free agents were signed before focusing on trading one of their backstops. That’s now come to pass, and the club has also dealt with other matters by signing Chris Bassitt and Kevin Kiermaier, so perhaps a trade is now top of the agenda.
The fact that they are considering a trade is perfectly logical, given that they have three quality backstops. Gabriel Moreno is considered the No. 3 prospect in the game by both Baseball America and FanGraphs. The club has given some thought of moving him to third base or left field in order to get him into the lineup, but that wouldn’t be the best use of his talents. His power is generally considered the weakest part of his game, with his defense and contact skills the highlights. He spent most of 2022 in Triple-A but made his MLB debut late in the season, hitting .319/.356/.377 in 73 plate appearances. He still has one option year remaining but doesn’t have much left to prove in the minors after hitting .315/.386/.420 for Buffalo this year, producing a 120 wRC+.
The Jays also have Danny Jansen, who turns 28 in April with two remaining years of control, and Alejandro Kirk, who’s 24 and has four control years left. Over the past two seasons, Jansen has been a roughly average framer and produced 5 DRS. He’s hit .243/.321/.496 in that time for a 124 wRC+ but has also been limited to just 142 games in that two-year stretch thanks to a pair of hamstring strains, an oblique strain and a broken finger.
Kirk was limited by injury to just 60 games in 2021 but got into 139 contests in 2022. When combined with his nine-game debut in 2020, his career batting line is .278/.362/.426, wRC+ of 124. He has 6 DRS and a 6.1 from FanGraphs’ framing metric. The Jays arguably have three catchers that could immediately jump to the top of the depth chart for some other clubs and should be fielding many calls. Jansen has been cited as the most likely to move since he is the nearest to free agency and will be making a modest arbitration salary projected at $3.7MM by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
The Mets agreed to a deal with Narváez last night, adding to what was already something of a crowded picture. He joins James McCann, Tomás Nido and Francisco Álvarez in the catching corps in Queens. Like Moreno, Álvarez is considered one of the best prospects in the game. However, his profile includes better power and lesser defense. He’s also mashed in Triple-A and has made his MLB debut, but there would at least be some argument to keeping him in the minors to continue developing his glovework. Then again, the club could consider carrying three catchers in the big leagues in order to get his bat into the lineup as a designated hitter when he’s not catching.
If Álvarez is going to be part of the big league team, someone else has to go. McCann, 33 in June, had a strong two-year run with the White Sox over 2019 and 2020, hitting .276/.334/.474 for a wRC+ of 114. He parlayed that into a four-year, $40.6MM deal with the Mets, but has taken a dip since then. He hit .232/.294/.349 in 2021 for a wRC+ of 80 and then dipped to .195/.257/.282 this year for a wRC+ of 59. He also made multiple trips to the IL and only got into 61 games. It’s possible some team might take a chance on a bounceback, but with two years and $24MM left on his deal, the Mets would have to eat some money or take a similarly undesirable contract back in exchange. Nido, 29 in April, has never hit much, apart from a brief surge in the shortened 2020 campaign. His career batting line is .220/.257/.323 (62 wRC+). He’s quite strong on defense though, with 19 DRS in his career and above-average framing in each season so far. He has two years of club control remaining and is projected for an arbitration salary of $1.6MM.
It always possible that a subsequent signing or trade will turn a new team into a potential trader, like the Mets did yesterday. The Braves’ acquisition of Murphy led to some speculation that they would then flip Travis d’Arnaud. Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos insists that d’Arnaud isn’t going anywhere, but he also said they didn’t anticipate a Murphy trade about a week before it happened, so things could change. The A’s grabbed Manny Piña in that deal to act as a veteran backup to Shea Langeliers but it wouldn’t necessarily be a shock to see them flip him elsewhere. Turning 36 in June, he’s making $4.5MM this season with a $4MM option for 2024 with no buyout. The Padres have Austin Nola, Luis Campusano and Brett Sullivan on their roster, but they reportedly pursued Sean Murphy during the 2022 season. If they acquired some other catcher, perhaps they would then pivot to trading one their incumbents. The Diamondbacks could shop Carson Kelly if they succeed in upgrading behind the plate. The Angels were reportedly a finalist for Willson Contreras, which could have perhaps led to Max Stassi heading to the trading block.
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