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Potential catching targets if the worst happens

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If Yadier Molina doesn’t sign, they might need to sign a catcher.

St Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Last week, I identified four needs that the Cardinals have over this offseason, and I defined a need as something a team would try to improve if they had the resources to do so. I covered trying to acquire another infielder last week, and it is my belief that the Cardinals should just roll with the outfield they have given the limited resources. That leaves just catcher and pitcher. And my mind is on catcher, given the recent signing of James McCann.

Now obviously, the preference is to sign Yadier Molina to become a lifelong Cardinal in the same storied history of names such as Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Stan Musial. While a Yadi signing still seems likely to this writer, it is by no means guaranteed. And if Yadi doesn’t sign, the Cardinals don’t necessarily have the personnel to just not do anything.

Well, I suppose that’s not strictly true. Hypothetically, they could absolutely give Andrew Knizner the starting job and make Tyler Heineman the backup. 2021 is going to be a transitional year for the outfield to figure out what it is, might as well throw catcher on that heap too. Sink or swim Andrew. Throw in a potentially close to ready Julio Rodriguez and there might be something interesting there.

But, well, I don’t have much of an article if that’s my solution. And ultimately, that may actually be my solution at the end, but first I want to explore the other options. See what’s on the market. Maybe there’s a hidden gem. Maybe there’s a guy who can balance out Knizner’s uncertainty. Heineman is not that guy. Might not be such a great idea for the plan to be two players whose combined MLB experience is less than every Yadier Molina MLB season since 2003, otherwise known as the season before Yadi debuted.

There’s no need for me to write about targets too expensive. I already wrote about Realmuto as an option. And McCann is virtually the only other guy who’s out of the price range, and he’s signed. Which is funny because I would have written about McCann if I was writing this article in October or something. Because I would not have possibly conceived he’d get anywhere near 4 years, $40 million. This signing is bananas to me. McCann has a career 70 wRC+ against RHP, had a .359 BABIP in his only good year and got freaking $10 million per year when he turns 31 next season. Got an owner willing to spend money, but if he’s gonna do it this stupidly, nothing is going to change.

Sorry sorry, I had to get that off my chest. The most unbelievable part of this is Mets fans have managed to talk themselves into this and that no, they didn’t actually want Realmuto and good god I’m doing it again. Okay, let’s get on with the targets.

Tyler Flowers, 35

Flowers is a framer. Before the shortened season, he was coming off six straight 2+ fWAR seasons and he was an above average hitter in just two of them. Part of that is just being a catcher, but he was on average +14.1 framing runs above average in those six seasons. You could do worse with some solid defense backup up Knizner if the Cards want to go that route.

But his bat might make him unplayable at this stage of his career. He had managed to strike out a manageable amount prior to 2019, but in 2019 he struck out 33.9% of the time. And then last year, in 80 PAs, he struck out 42.5% of the time. It’s a worrying trend. His projection is just a 75 wRC+. Heineman has a better offensive projection.

Jason Castro, 34

If Knizner is the starter, there’s a damn good argument that signing a left-handed catcher to back him up would be ideal. There is a rule of thumb that is true of most hitters that they are worse against their own hand. As such, Knizner is probably going to be worse against RHP than LHP. It’s not as extreme as your average LHB, but it’s there. And by signing a left-handed batter, you can maximize Knizner’s value by having him start against LHP and only some RHP, and maximize the backup’s by only having him start against RHP.

Castro for instance is unbelievably bad against LHP in his career: 53 wRC+. He has a 105 wRC+ against RHP. However he has the same problem as Flowers. He strikes out too much and is old enough to where his bat just might not be good enough. Castro doesn’t have that framing that Flowers has either.

Curt Casali, 32

Casali has outplayed Tucker Barnhart for the past few years as his backup, acquiring more WAR in half the playing time. Casali has a career 95 wRC+ and is coming off a season with 6 HRs in 31 games. He seems to bring just about nothing defensively to the table, but I don’t really see an indication that he’d hurt you either. Honestly, he’d be a pretty good pickup if he can be had for cheap and only has 4.151 years of service, which means any deal would functionally be a 1 year deal with an option year (dictated by his arbitration price).

Alex Avila, 34

Another left with some pretty wide splits. He has a 73 wRC+ against LHP, 112 wRC+ against RHP. Like I said above, the value of a lefty behind Knizner is that you could take two players who are below average, and use them in the most favorable situation, and get average or better production of that position because of how you use them. Avila is a straight up bad defensive catcher, so there’s always a downside.

Kurt Suzuki, 37

To be perfectly honest, I think Suzuki would be a bad fit. He has been an above average hitter the past four years, but he gives up almost all of his value from his baserunning (career -18.5 BsR) and fielding (-109.3 career). He’s also 37 and right-handed. I can see the argument for him based on his bat, but I’m not a fan.

Austin Romine, 33

Yeah I’m not going to lie. I’m kind of fixated on getting a backup who’s left-handed, but Romine would be a particularly bad fit because he’s only playable against a LHP. He has a 64 wRC+ against RHP in his career. While I’m potentially open to the idea that you don’t have to give all the LHP starts to Knizner, you can’t give him none of the starts which is the only justification for Romine in my opinion.

Mike Zunino, 30

Surely teams are done giving him starting jobs at this point right? That would be a roadblock to getting him, but to be honest that might be a good thing. Because he has been a horrifically bad hitter as much as he’s been a good hitter. He just strikes out all the damn time and needs to hit a bunch of homers to make up for it and he usually doesn’t. He is oddly enough, better against RHP though with an 85 wRC+ compared to 79 wRC+. He’s also a great defender. There are worse things than having a backup who can sock a dinger even if you have sit through a career 34.5 K%.

I’m honestly going to stop there. I passed over two targets, Wilson Ramos and Robinson Chirinos. I’m not sure either is going to be pricey necessarily, but I imagine both would get starting jobs. And I’m not sure either is better than Knizner, and if you’re going to sign a starter, you need someone obviously better than Knizner in front of him I think. Because might as well gamble with Knizner if you’re going to sign someone similar to him.

You could go with Casali, although he’s another player where his best work comes against LHP (119 wRC+ career). You could go with either lefty above or you could sign Zunino and hope more dingers than normal fall. And if you’re not satisfied with any answer, stick with the internal options. This is a good argument to just sign Yadi to be honest, because none of these solutions are great.