Yesterday, the Kansas City Royals designated catcher George Kottaras for assignment (“no, he’ll never be royals” … I’m sorry for that), primarily due to a catching glut and an impending arbitration raise. Their loss might just be the Cubs’ gain.
It’s no secret that the Cubs are heavily in the market for catching depth, and, at the top of the list is a solid back-up catcher whom they can pair with starter Welington Castillo. Since Castillo bats righty, finding a lefty would be ideal. Enter Kottaras.
Last year, Kottaras hit just .180 … but his OBP was .349. That’s right. Kottaras had a 19%(!!!) walk rate last year. For his career, he walks at an amazingly high 14% clip. That’s important, because he’s never hit for much average, with a BABIP that always hovers in the .250 range and a strikeout rate in the 22% range. Still, combine that walk rate with an ISO that’s around .200, and you’ve got a quietly valuable player. He also grades out well defensively, according to FanGraphs. Kottaras turns 31 next year.
I know what you’re thinking: if this guy is so obviously great, why did the Royals dump him? Well, his contract status is one reason (he made $1.2 million in 2013 and was set for a raise in arbitration). But the main reason is a serious positional glut at the big league level. After signing Francisco Pena to a big league deal (he’s 24, and is a very good third catcher option or possible back-up), the Royals had starter Salvador Perez (a young stud in whom they’ve already invested a bit), Kottaras, Brett Hayes (a capable backup who will be much cheaper than Kottaras), and Pena. Against that backdrop, it makes some sense that they might let Kottaras go, since they needed his roster spot for Jason Vargas, who signed yesterday.
That the Royals have DFA’d Kottaras doesn’t mean he’ll go on waivers, where the Cubs could pluck him for free (assuming they were comfortable paying him whatever he projects to make in arbitration – maybe $1.5 to $2 million?). The Royals have 10 days to waive, release, or trade Kottaras. It’s possible that the Royals know there is enough interest in him that, needing the roster spot now, they could freely DFA him and put a trade together quickly.
If Kottaras does wind up on waivers, the Astros, Marlins, and White Sox will have an opportunity to claim him before the Cubs get a chance. If there’s a reasonable fear that he’ll be claimed (the Royals grabbed him quickly last year when he was DFA’d by the A’s), the Cubs could consider sending along a C prospect to get a deal done.
To my mind, if Carlos Ruiz – who turns 35 in January – is worth three years and $26 million, Kottaras has to be worth $1.5 to $2 million, right? As a veteran lefty who takes a ton of walks and has posted an OPS+ of 98 or better each of the last three years (catchers are often late bloomers with the bat), I’m not sure the Cubs can find a better back-up catcher out there right now.
Furthermore, Kottaras came up in the Red Sox system after originally being drafted by the Padres. He even spent parts of the 2008 and 2009 season on the Red Sox’s big league roster. In other words, this front office is very familiar with him.
Maybe that makes him a prime target, or gives them specialized knowledge of why he shouldn’t be a target. Whatever the case, this is a guy who looks like a tremendous fit for the Cubs’ needs – and possibly an inexpensive one.