From the moment the Cubs finalized their Yu Darvish signing, it seemed like a cinch that Chris Gimenez, his minor league deal notwithstanding, would be the team’s backup catcher entering the season.
For one thing, he was already probably going to be that guy, given his success in that role for a long time, and the Cubs’ need. With a veteran back-up in tow, Willson Contreras’s development as the starter can be assisted, and catching prospect Victor Caratini can start regularly at AAA. For another thing, since Gimenez had previously been Darvish’s personal catcher, it only made sense that – since Gimenez already figured to be the guy – the Darvish signing locked it up.
Except Joe Maddon isn’t ready to say that.
“That’s probably going to be the most difficult decision or conversation,” Maddon told Cubs.com of the back-up catcher decision. “It has been among all of us. … This will go down to the wire.”
The fact that this is even still under consideration suggests Maddon, and others on staff, really likes Caratini. That must be the case, or this would be no question at all, since I certainly don’t take it as a knock on Gimenez, who worked with Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey with the Rays for a couple years.
Another indication that deciding between Gimenez and Caratini is a real conversation going on? Gimenez is not slated to be Darvish’s personal catcher even if he makes the team.
It was assured that Contreras, as the starter, would catch Darvish at least sometimes, but it’s actually more than that. Maddon told the Tribune that Contreras would be the every-start catcher for Darvish and Jon Lester. So, then, if Contreras is going to be specifically paired up with Darvish, that is all the more indication that Gimenez is not being thought of right now as a guy who is guaranteed to make the roster in the role we were expecting.
Caratini, 24, very likely has a big-league ready bat. He rocked at AA in 2016, and then destroyed AAA in 2017 before getting a taste of big league action. The switch-hitter barrels the ball well, has excellent plate discipline, and figures to hit for enough power to make the whole package work at a league average or better level. He, like Contreras, is newer to the full-time-catcher thing, having previously spent time at the corner infield spots, so the catching skills and maturity could probably still use some seasoning. To that end, you could argue he’s best served starting regularly at AAA … or you could argue he’s best served working with the big league pitching and coaching staffs.
To me, I still see enough value in Gimenez that I’d like to see him as the back-up, all else equal. But it’s not as if going with Caratini is an indefensible decision.
Could the Cubs carry all three, given that there’s at least one roster spot still up for grabs? Eh, although I know that Maddon has enjoyed the luxury of playing periodically with three catchers on the roster, I don’t know that this is the best situation for it. It would further reduce Caratini’s playing time to something like a start every 10 to 14 days, and a bunch of pinch hitting appearances. And although he can play other positions, how many starts would he actually draw at third or first base, given that Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo rarely sit, and when they do, there are a ton of other quality bench players who are fresher at those positions?
When the rubber meets the road on March 29, I still think we’ll see two catchers on the roster, and the back-up will be Gimenez. But apparently this is a very real ongoing discussion.