That headline is intended to be cheeky, but it’s also kinda serious, since I do seem to be obsessing about the back-up catcher spot. To reiterate: I *do* like Victor Caratini. I do, however, have deep reservations about his readiness to be deployed (and succeed) as a true, full-season back-up catcher, providing enough rest for Willson Contreras to be at his best.
Moreover, with the addition of a veteran who can work with Contreras to continue developing his receiving skills, and also provide excellent defense in the games Contreras doesn’t start, I tend to think the Cubs are better off overall having a guy like that in the fold, and Caratini starting regularly at AAA Iowa until he’s needed. I reckon Caratini wouldn’t love that, but winning in 2019 is the priority, and doing that – in my opinion – requires a peak-peak Willson Contreras.
OK. Repetitive preamble over.
The latest back-up catcher to sign with Not-Cubs is Nick Hundley:
The A’s have signed catcher Nick Hundley to a minor league deal.
— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) February 11, 2019
To be sure, Hundley is not the type of guy I’ve had in mind for the Cubs in any case (he consistently rates poorly as a framer, and is more of a bat-first type), but hey, minor league deal. I wouldn’t complain about adding another option at least.
With that in mind, the market is more or less down to Martin Maldonado and A.J. Ellis. Maldonado is your *dream* candidate, because he’s elite defensively, elite as a framer, and won’t necessarily kill you at the plate. The problem is that he might yet find a job with a team that can give him something closer to starter reps. On the Cubs, he’d be more like a 35% guy at most (which I think would maximize everyone’s performance! DO ITTTTTT!). And I don’t expect the Cubs to pay significant dollars at this point for a starting-adjacent catcher, even if it happens to be a guy who could make the Cubs better in so many quiet ways, up to and including bringing over some of the organizational thinking from the Astros. (Gee, what have they ever done to improve the performance of their pitchers …. )
So then there’s Ellis, who is one of those beloved veteran catcher types, and actually hit very well last year with the Padres (105 wRC+). The rub is that the offense was built entirely on a crazy high BABIP that probably won’t last, and he’ll be 38 this season. Figuring him for anything better than the more recent 80ish wRC+ range is unreasonable. But, hey, if he can catch, who cares about the bat, right? Well, the defense rates as still fine, but the pitch-framing is a mixed bag. He rated HORRIBLY last year, solidly below average in 2017, and a little below average in 2016 and 2015. Since pitch-framing is a skill that can decline like any other, and since he hasn’t yet been signed, you wonder if perhaps the league believes he’s declined too much to be valuable in that regard.
So, yeah. It’s kinda Maldonado or bust for the Cubs if they’re going to add a catcher of significance, and I would be very surprised by Maldonado at this point. Remember back when one of the very first offseason priorities for the Cubs was adding a veteran back-stop? Since then, the Cubs have been connected only to Brian McCann, who elected to return to Atlanta instead.
Bupkis on the rumor mill since then, and only a whole bunch of signings with other teams. Again, I’d be very surprised if suddenly the Cubs sprang on Maldonado.
Please surprise me, Cubs.
EDIT: Ryan makes a good point:
Fair point; Wieters nets out to only a slightly-below-average framer the past few years. Solid defense. Bat has fallen off a cliff the past few years, but fine as a back-up. Guess I didn't think of him as looking to transition into true back-up role, but yes, he's out there, too. https://t.co/s5bz8GjD62
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) February 11, 2019