With Opening Day – the league-wide one – less than a week away, we’re about to enter the phase of Spring Training where a whole bunch of fringe roster guys, and other solid players without minor league options are let go in advance of setting the 25-man rosters next week.
Given their injuries (bullpen) and depth questions (catcher), I think you’ll see the Cubs paying close attention to the relievers who become available, and also to the catchers. Reportedly, the Cubs are still in the market for catching depth.
To that end, one veteran back-up just hit the market:
More Phillies moves: catcher Drew Butera and infielder Andrew Romine have been granted their unconditional release. Both had outs in contract today.
— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyNBCS) March 21, 2019
Not sure Butera, 35, is the right guy as depth for the Cubs, though, as his defense and framing have fallen off in recent years, and the bat is pretty bad even for a good defensive catcher.
But the broader point remains: these guys are coming, and even if the Cubs are committed to opening the season with Victor Caratini as the backup, it wouldn’t be bad to grab a veteran to add to the mix at Iowa (unless the Cubs really love Taylor Davis and Francisco Arcia as depth, which I don’t have a great sense of).
Maybe the Cubs will consider more than just minor league depth? Remember, they were in on Martin Maldonado, but couldn’t offer him the kind of playing time he was going to get with the Royals when he signed for a modest $2.5 million.
If the Cubs wanted to try to add that kind of backup catcher – top tier defense and framing, great with pitchers, not terrible at the plate – the situation we’ve long been looking at is the trio in Boston, each of whom are out of minor league options: Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez, and Sandy Leon. It just seemed impossible that the Red Sox could keep all three if they were healthy.
And, sure enough:
The Red Sox are actively discussing possible trades of catcher Sandy Leon, @MarlyRiveraESPN and I have heard from sources.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) March 21, 2019
Leon, 30, is set to make $2.475 million this year, which is not much for a quality backup catcher, but it nevertheless is probably pretty steep at this point in the budget cycle, in a market where Maldonado barely got that. Moreover, with the Red Sox way over the second tier of the luxury tax (for the second consecutive year), which means Leon’s $2.475 million salary – if you think about it as a marginal addition to payroll – will actually cost them about $3.5 million.
Considering the Red Sox could cut him this week for termination pay amounting to only about $600,000, they don’t have a whole lot of trade leverage if they wanted to go that route. In other words, a team like the Cubs – if they could fit Leon’s salary onto their budget (sure seems like it if they were pursuing Maldonado) – could get Leon for very cheap at this point.
Leon’s bat is probably solidly below average at this point (his career 65 wRC+ sounds about right), but he has been SUPER elite defensively/framing the last two years. Although he doesn’t have the same long track record as Maldonado, he was just as valuable defensively (including framing) as Maldonado last year in about 3/4 the games!
Leon also has experience working with some of the best pitchers in the world in his time with the Red Sox and Nationals, plus tons of postseason experience. Those things sure can’t hurt, right?
That is to say, if you believe having a great defensive, great framing veteran backup can help the Cubs, you want them to get in on Leon. His presence would help the pitching staff (which got crushed by framing last year, by the way), would help Willson Contreras continue his development (and probably Victor Caratini at times, too), and would also help justify more rest for Contreras throughout the season, which could make him even better.
Ideally, you’d have a catcher in camp long, long before Opening Day, but unfortunately, sometimes teams aren’t *sufficiently motivated* to move a guy on your terms until their hand is forced by the deadline to set their 25-man roster. That’s what is happening with the Red Sox, and I hope the Cubs are interested.