You know, we spend so much time talking about “the Yu Darvish trade,” and looking at Yu Darvish’s rough performance since mid-June, that sometimes I think we forget that the Cubs included a solid catcher in that deal. Anyone else get a little curious about how Victor Caratini has been doing with the Padres this year?
Well, I did. And it’s not good! Way more not good than I was expecting.
The now-28-year-old switch-hitter, who was near-starting-caliber with the Cubs – but because of Willson Contreras was instead just a really good back-up – has played in 105 games for the Padres this year. Thanks to some injuries, Caratini got closer to a starter’s workload as the catcher there in San Diego, which you would’ve hoped would unlock another level of performance.
Unfortunately, the opposite has been true. Caratini is hitting just .212/.299/.306, good for a dreadful 65 wRC+. Just seven hitters in all of baseball have at least 300 PAs and a lower wRC+. Caratini has been awful.
What sucks is that his walk and strikeout rates have been consistent with the rest of his career, but his BABIP has plummeted. The ISO is also still rough, which suggests his quality of contact is not great. Sure enough, his groundball rate is over 50%, his hard contact rate is under 30%, and although his expected wOBA is a little better than his actual wOBA, it remains in the bottom tier of baseball (number 205 out of 233 hitters with at least 200 balls in play). In other words, Caratini just isn’t making enough good contact to produce at anything close to a league-average rate.
Moreover, his defensive metrics at catcher have been terrible, both framing and defensive runs saved. Those stats may need some more time to stabilize, but it’s weird to see for a guy who was always pretty solid in both areas with the Cubs.
Take it all together, and it leaves Caratini with a -0.9 WAR, by far the worst number for any starting or starting-adjacent catcher in all of baseball this year.
I have no idea what to do with this information, because it does not impact the Cubs, and I have zero interest in dancing on any graves. Yes, sometimes catchers decline very swiftly around age 30, but this just seems odd. Plus, why wouldn’t you want Caratini to do well with his new team? Oh, and also? You can’t assume he would have been this bad if still with the Cubs. So it’s not like you can just immediately say “good thing the Cubs got rid of THAT guy!”
But there is a reality here to lay out: both Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini have been deeply, deeply disappointing for a Padres team that needed them to be really good. For the Cubs, however, even a good version of Darvish and Caratini wouldn’t have been the difference between a 2021 playoff chase and whatever it is they are now. So the trade, in hindsight, makes sense regardless of how the two have performed with the Padres. It’s just that, since they have performed so poorly, it’s all the easier to stomach the trade for prospects when we look back. The fact that two of those prospects, Reggie Preciado and Owen Caissie, have had great years in the Cubs’ farm system also helps.
As for Caratini going forward, he’s eligible for arbitration again, and the Padres will have to decide if they want to retain him on what will be a small raise from his $1.3 million salary this year. If not, hey, maybe the Cubs can get back in the market for Caratini as a back-up catcher. Maybe the organization is just a better fit for him? I wouldn’t hate it as a buy-low, bounce-back type.