At a minimum, you have to have one long-time veteran catcher in on a minor league deal. It’s just a rule. (OK, it’s not actually a rule, but, as we saw last year, you absolutely have to have capable depth behind your catchers at the big league level.)
That would be true for the Cubs even if they had a host of upper-level catching options in the minors, which, of course, they do not. Thanks to the Tommy John surgery for Miguel Amaya and a general dearth of advanced, big-league-caliber catching in the minors, the Cubs REALLY needed a capable back-up, back-up on the Iowa Cubs roster. Thankfully, the Cubs were able to re-sign P.J. Higgins in the fall, so he’s decent bat-first depth. And the Cubs also retained Erick Castillo and Tyler Payne in case of emergency.
Still, given the workload on Willson Contreras last year (and the chance he could be traded at some point this year), and given Yan Gomes’ age, it was all the more imperative that the Cubs have one of the better-available veteran types who are willing to sign minor league deals.
To that end, I think the Cubs did pretty well to sign former Rangers and Tigers catcher John Hicks to a minor league deal. He’s currently listed on the Iowa Cubs roster.
The 32-year-old righty-hitting catcher was something of a half-time starter for the Tigers from 2017-19, hitting .241/.287/.401 (81 wRC+), and playing slightly below average defense:
At Triple-A, Hicks has hit solidly, including last year with the Rangers (.290/.336/.520, 107 wRC+). He strikes out a ton, hits for a good amount of power, and generally has the look of a passable catcher bat. Combine that with slightly below average defense, and, yeah, that’s about what you could hope to get as a third or fourth catcher on a minor league deal.
Hicks figures be in big league camp – if that ever happens – and would be battling Higgins (if he’s healthy now) for that third catcher spot, coming up whenever there’s a need at the big league level.