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The 2017-2018 offseason catching market

A look at the catchers available this winter

MLB: NL Wildcard-Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency is officially kicking off today, and with that we should probably look at all of the players who are available on the open market. We’ll start with catcher, because why not? It’s not clear whether or not the Red Sox are going to look for help behind the plate, but I think it’s a better possibility than it may seem at first glance. Christian Vazquez was a tremendous surprise for Boston this year and looked like an everyday catcher. However, there’s still some question about how sustainable his offense was. Plus, Sandy Leon turned back into his old self and Blake Swihart struggled with performance and injury all year long in the minors. At the very least, they could at least look for another backup to bring to camp for some competition. It’s possible they could look at some starting-caliber players to split time with Vazquez. There aren’t any stars available, but there are some guys who could be utilized in an even 50/50 split.

The Starters

Jonathan Lucroy, Miguel Montero, Alex Avila, Welington Castillo, Chris Iannetta

This batch of starting-caliber backstops is pretty rangy in terms of overall quality, though none of these players should command major contracts on the open market. That being said, none of them really strike me as someone the Red Sox would be interested in. Montero has been a fine hitter in the past, but he has major issues controlling the running game and hasn’t exactly been the best teammate either. Lucroy likely has the highest ceiling of the names above, but he struggled mightily for most of 2017 and could command a multi-year deal the Red Sox won’t want to commit to. Iannetta may not even belong in this group and is the worst overall player I have included in this tier.

So, if the Red Sox do decide to grab someone from this tier of free agency — and I want to be clear that I don’t think they will, though I do think it could be justified — it would come down to Avila and Castillo. The former was one of the better hitting catchers in the game for much of this season and since the start of 2016 he’s been the fifth-best hitting catcher by wRC+ among those with at least 500 plate appearances. He’s not great defensively, but that’s not as big of a deal when Vazquez is the other catcher. Castillo, meanwhile, isn’t officially a free agent as he’s still deciding whether or not to accept his $7 million player option for 2018. If he doe decline it, he’s probably my favorite free agent catcher. He’s a more consistent hitter than Avila and would provide some of that power the Red Sox are missing. However, Avila would give Boston a left-handed partner with Vazquez while Castillo would give them another right-handed option. Plus, while neither is great behind the plate, Avila is a little better.

My Pick: Like I said, I don’t see any of these players are super realistic, but my favorite for the Red Sox if they did decide to go down this road would be Avila.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Backups

A.J. Ellis, Nick Hundley, Rene Rivera, Chris Stewart, Geovany Soto, Joe Lobaton, Carlos Ruiz

If the Red Sox are to look at free agent catchers, this is almost certainly the tier to which they’ll look. These are players who are, at most, going to get cheap one-year deals. Many of them could probably be had on minor-league deals to compete with Leon and/or Swihart. Ellis would give the Red Sox some veteran leadership behind the plate, but not much else. Hundley doesn’t provide much with the glove, but he’s a solid hitting catcher who could provide insurance against Vazquez regression at the plate. Rivera is inconsistent at best with the bat, but he’s also a strong glove with a ton of major-league experience. Stewart is a tremendous framer, and that’s about it. Soto was a solid catcher once upon a time, but he’s reaching the end of his career. Lobaton is a defense-first backup who’s merely good behind the plate rather than great. Ruiz is still a solid hitter but is almost 40 and is getting worse every year.

My Pick: These options are pretty lackluster, and honestly it’s probably best to just stick with what they have. That being said, Hundley would probably be my pick if the Red Sox did decide to look at this group.

Trade Candidates

Josh Phegley, Russell Martin, Tyler Flowers, Devin Mesoraco, Cameron Rupp

I want to be up front about this section, as there really aren’t many rumors of catchers available via trade. These names are all total speculation from me about guys who I could see being made available. Martin is the biggest name among this group, and while it’s not entirely clear the Blue Jays are going to rebuild it seems possible. At the very least, they could be looking at a retool and Martin is getting up there in age. He’s not a great player anymore, but he’s a solid hitting catcher who can play well behind the plate. While Martin is the biggest name, Flowers might be the best player. The Braves catcher doesn’t get a ton of pub, but he’s been an above-average hitter for the last two years and is consistently rated as one of the league’s best pitch-framers. He’s still cheap and the Braves could want to hold on to him, but he’s also going to be 32 next year. With Atlanta still in a rebuild, they could look to capitalize on his value right now.

The other three names profile more as backups. Phegley had a few years where he was one of the better hitting backups in the league, but his production has fallen off in recent years for Oakland. Mesoraco once looked like one of the best young catchers in the league, but injuries have completely and utterly derailed his career. Tucker Barnhart has now usurped him as Cincinnati’s top catcher and this could be the year to buy-low and hope for a health Mesoraco. Rupp has some solid pop behind the plate, but he’s not great defensively and the Phillies have Jorge Alfaro coming up from the minors to take over as their primary backstop.

My Pick: Devin Mesoraco is one of those players on whom I will never quit. With his recent injury history he probably wouldn’t cost much in a trade and his upside is very real. That being said, I can’t see the Red Sox pulling off this kind of deal and realistically he’s almost certainly not the player he once was. I just can’t quit him.