A handful of things are simultaneously true: (1) I wanted the Cubs to pick up Martin Maldonado all offseason and I was very happy when they traded for him; (2) given the way the rest of the bench developed (and the fact that the money savings may have helped get Nick Castellanos) I was fine with flipping Maldonado for Tony Kemp; (3) it’s really bad luck and timing that Willson Contreras got injured just a few days after Maldonado was traded away; and (4) that is the risk in thinning your catching depth in late July.
So, summing up, I’m not really critical of the front office for the way things proceeded – I dug it all, basically – but I do think it’s fair to say, hey, this was precisely the risk you knew was on the table.
Now what? Well, obviously in the immediate near-term, Victor Caratini is your starter and Taylor Davis is your back-up. I gotta say, there are virtually no other orgs out there that could lose a starting catcher like Willson Contreras and be in better shape than the Cubs are. It’s a blow, obviously. A big blow to the offense, in particular. But Caratini looks to be among the best back-ups out there (a capable starter on most teams), and Davis is long-time member of the org who is familiar with the Cubs’ staff and methods. He receives well, plays good defense, and won’t be that much worse than a typical back-up catcher at the plate.
That said, we know that the Cubs moved aggressively to pick up Maldonado in trade the first time Contreras went down with an injury. They didn’t know at the time how long it would be, so they wanted more coverage than just Victor Caratini and Taylor Davis. It seems likely they will do it again, but this time, there are no trades like that available.
How *can* the Cubs add additional catching depth? Just because traditional trades are out, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some methods.
First, if a player is waived – like Jonathan Lucroy has been, for example – the Cubs can simply claim that guy if they’re willing to take on the contract. Given that Lucroy is owed a million bucks the rest of the way, I tend to doubt that happens for the Cubs. However(!), if nobody claims Lucroy, he’ll become a free agent, and then the Cubs could sign him for the prorated portion of the Major League minimum. Totally doable.
Second, the Cubs *can* trade for a minor league catcher so long as he hasn’t been up in the big leagues this year. Old friend Rene Rivera, for example, has been toiling away with the Mets’ AAA club all season. If the Mets are willing to trade away their own depth for something relatively insignificant, that’s another path.
Finally, the Cubs could find a current free agent to add quickly. For example, Nick Hundley was released by the A’s last week, and is currently a free agent. If he Cubs could have pounced quickly enough, he’d be a great guy to have signed for the start of tonight’s series against the A’s, eh? A little inside info? Might be worth it for this series, alone, to be honest. (They could also add someone later who becomes a free agent. But that’s quite a waiting game.)
Neither Lucroy nor Hundley is going to be a game-changer, and they certainly aren’t going to replace Contreras. But they are both guys who could hit around average for a catcher (or better), and won’t kill you behind the plate. The same is probably true for Rivera.
Stay tuned. As much as the Cubs might like Davis as the back-up, they will still want another experienced catcher in the fold as quickly as possible. What happens if Caratini or Davis were injured tonight? Yes, you can go next-man-up in the minors, but with all appropriate love to P.J. Higgins and Erick Castillo (the current catchers at AAA), they aren’t ready for that.