Although the last truly notable free agent catcher, Martin Maldonado, finally signed this weekend – for a measly $2.5 million with the Royals, sigh – that doesn’t necessarily mean the Chicago Cubs are totally out of the market for additional catching depth.
Consider that the Cubs catching situation looks like this:
- Willson Contreras – Coming off a down year (but could definitely bounce back), and he caught more than any other catcher in baseball last year.
- Victor Caratini – A quality prospect who has hit extremely well at AAA, but who is still developing as a receiver and needs to adjust to hit in the big leagues.
- Taylor Davis – A 29-year-old minor league journeyman who is very well liked, but who has hit below average at AAA the last few years.
- Francisco Arcia – Exactly what I just said about Davis.
It’s a fine group. Maybe even better than most clubs. But you can’t tell me you wouldn’t feel comforted by the presence of one of those defense-first, excellent-framing veteran types. It’s a drum we’ve banged into a pulp this offseason, but having that kind of guy available not only helps the pitching staff, not only could help Willson Contreras develop his framing skills, and not only could afford Victor Caratini the opportunity to make regular starts at AAA Iowa and come up if/when there’s a more extended need, but it would also give Joe Maddon a very good and obvious reason to rest Contreras more regularly than he did last year.
To that end, it was no surprise to me that one of the very first, and then persistent, early offseason rumors attached to the Cubs was a variation on “they want a veteran catcher.” But once they missed out on Brian McCann (who, damn it, would have been ideal), there was a whole lot of nothing on this front.
Turns out, though, according to Patrick Mooney, the Cubs *did* explore the idea of adding Maldonado late (good!), but he was prioritizing regular playing time (ah), which, in context, I take to mean a starter’s work load. On the Cubs, he really wasn’t going to see that, even if Maddon was willing to do a 60/40 split in favor of Contreras.
Still, that tells you the Cubs haven’t ruled out adding to their catching depth, and indeed, Mooney confirms, via a source, that the Cubs are doing just that.
But where are you going to find quality catching depth at this time of year when free agency is tapped out?
Well, let me go back to somewhere we touched on earlier this offseason:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) February 13, 2019
In short, the Red Sox have three catchers – all without minor league options – almost certainly for just two spots. Perhaps the Cubs could send over a relief arm to the bullpen-needy Red Sox? In theory, it would not be a pricey acquisition, because otherwise the Red Sox are just going to have to go the waiver route with one of their catchers, and they might lose him anyway.
The Mets also have three quality catcher for two spots – Wilson Ramos, Travis d’Arnaud, and Tomas Nido – but Nido does have a minor league option year remaining, so they aren’t as crunched as the Red Sox.
I expect there are other fringe candidates in a roster crunch right now, especially as the many guys who signed minor league deals win spots at the end of camp (and/or they, themselves, re-enter the market via an opt-out).
That is all to say, if the Cubs do want to add catching depth, they are going to have an opportunity in the next two weeks.
Ideally, you’d get a guy in ASAP so that he can start working with the pitching staff, the coaching staff, Contreras, and Caratini. More than any other position player type, you want your catcher to have a great deal of familiarity with his surroundings if he’s going to be maximally useful.
And if it doesn’t happen, the Cubs can be very successful – obviously – with Contreras and Caratini carrying the load, especially if Caratini gets enough playing time to keep developing and to rest Contreras.