A couple days ago, Brett discussed what was probably the most high-profile roster decision of the spring: whether the veteran Chris Gimenez or the prospect Victor Caratini would be the Cubs backup catcher in 2018 (yeah, not too many tough battles this year).
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.
Joe Maddon went on to explain that this choice was his most difficult of the spring, and that he had still not decided which way he was going to go.
Well, according to multiple reports on Twitter, Maddon has finally decided. And it’s a bit of a surprise:
Caratini to be backup catcher. #Cubs
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 24, 2018
Given that the Cubs are rolling with eight relievers to start the season, they will almost certainly not be rolling with all three catchers, too. Thus, Gimenez will be the odd man out for now
However, despite his Minor League contract, the Cubs might not be able to keep him the entire summer:
Cubs Last position player spot between Caratini and Gimenez .Both have options . Gimenez can ask for release June 1 .
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) March 23, 2018
Hopefully the Cubs can keep him in the organization in some capacity for as long as necessary – bad things happen – but until then, the Cubs must be prepared to lose him halfway through the year.
As for Caratini … this is pretty awesome/exciting. Switch-hitting, positionally versatile catchers are rare, and extremely valuable (especially when teamed up with a roster like this and a manager like Maddon). And he gets to stick in the big leagues. I’m sure he’s quite stoked about that.
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.
Apparently the Cubs decided the ability of Caratini plus the ability to develop him in a different way (at the big league level with the big league pitchers and coaches) outweighed the value of a veteran presence like Gimenez. Tough call, indeed. With a third/emergency catcher in Kyle Schwarber on the roster, maybe the Cubs will be able to take advantage of Caratini’s bat more than you’d usually see mid-game with a backup catcher (because you fear losing your starter having already burned your backup).
The Cubs’ backup catcher to begin the season will be Victor Caratini, and the only roster decision remaining is who’ll be the eighth reliever.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.