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Checking the Market: Catchers

Who is available behind the plate?

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals - Game One Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The offseason is officially upon us, and the Red Sox should be active. Coming off one of the worst seasons in the history of the franchise (the length of which notwithstanding), they have plenty of needs all over the roster. To get us ready for all of the possible moves that could be made over the next few months, we’re going to spent the next week looking at every portion of the roster and the available players that could be targeted both in free agency and via trade. Today, we’ll kick things off by looking at the catcher market.

Where the Red Sox stand

Theoretically, this should be one of the few (only?) spots on the roster where the Red Sox are totally set. They have one of the five or so best catchers in the game starting for them in Christian Vázquez. At the backup spot, Kevin Plawecki came in this year and showed he was more than capable of holding that role down. Even down in the minors they have Deivy Grullón and Connor Wong, the latter of which likely wouldn’t be ready until the second half at the earliest. Still, that’s three good catchers on the 40-man roster, all with team-friendly deals.

And despite all of that, there is still a shadow of a doubt things will be that simple. This summer at the trade deadline there were rumors of the team shopping Vázquez. It’s hard to say how close a deal actually came to getting done, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t at least conversations this winter, though I’d come short of predicting a deal actually happens. There lies the possibility of them needing to fill that spot in the lineup, though. I also wouldn’t sleep on the idea of them potentially shopping Plawecki in a minor sell-high move, either to move Grullón to the majors or to simply sign a new backup.

All told, I wouldn’t expect the Red Sox to be very active in this market, but there is a real chance of that changing quickly.

Top Free Agent

J.T. Realmuto

When the Vázquez rumors were flying this summer, one of the lines of logic some presented was that they could use Vázquez to get cost-controlled starting pitching and then turn around and sign Realmuto. I would still argue that’s not the best use of resources, but that’s not to say anything bad about Realmuto, who quite simply is the best catcher in baseball. The former Phillie (Philly?) has been a consistently above-average hitter (which is way better than average for this position) while playing elite defense. He is approaching 30, which is a bit concerning for someone who plays behind the plate, but barring injury he should be expected to produce at a high level for at least the next three or four years at minimum. He will be one of the highest paid players in free agency this year, though who knows what that really means in this market.

Other Starting Free Agent Options

James McCann, Tyler Flowers, Robinson Chirinos, Yadier Molina, Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki

Realmuto is a top-tier option and is the only free agent that would be a clear upgrade over Vázquez. If they do move Vázquez, though, and Realmuto is either more expensive than they are willing to pay or set on returning to the Phillies (a real possibility), these would be the backup plans.

McCann would be the closest to a top-five option they could find, and he has broken out to being in that conversation with Vázquez, though defensively it would be a downgrade. Offensively, though, he has become a very strong hitter. The plate discipline numbers aren’t great, but when he makes contact he has been hitting it hard and has translated that into above-average lines two years running, including a 144 wRC+ in 2020. He’s the clear number two in this market.

Beyond that, Flowers has been a good framer for most of his career while providing solid-average offense for a catcher. Molina is technically a free agent, but he’s going back to St. Louis. That is basically the lock of the offseason. Chirinos, Ramos and Suzuki are all older, offense-first catchers. Those three along with Flowers would likely be better in a tandem where they didn’t have to play more than 85-95 games.

Best Fit: If it is for a Vázquez replacement, the Red Sox don’t have an in-house option that should be trusted in something like a 50/50 split with one of Flowers, Chirinos, Ramos and Suzuki, which leaves us with James McCann.

Backup Free Agent Options

Alex Avila, Sandy Léon, Austin Romine, Erik Kratz, Jeff Mathis

There are a handful of solid options that could play behind Vázquez in the event of a Plawecki trade, which is of course total speculation on my part. Avila has been good enough to start at times, but he hasn’t played more than 80 games in a season since 2017, and that was the first time since 2014. León, Romine and Mathis are defense-only options while Kratz seems like he’ll either go back to the Yankees or retire.

Best Fit: Avila is the best option, but as a backup I think the Red Sox would prefer someone who could work well with pitchers, leaving León and Mathis. The latter is in the conversation for worst hitters the league has ever seen, though, so that in combination with the team knowing Sandy Léon makes him the best fit. That said, I wouldn’t expect any of these players to be Plawecki replacements, instead looking at potential trade targets or Grullón.

American League Wild Card Game 1: New York Yankees v. Cleveland Indians Photo by Joe Sargent/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Potential Trade Partners

Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Twins, Athletics, Cubs, Reds, Dodgers, Padres

All of these teams could have potential logjams at the position. That isn’t to say a trade has to happen because there are worse things than having three catchers on the roster, but they could at least be open to a conversation. The Blue Jays have Danny Jansen as a starter and called up Alejandro Kirk to end the year, meaning Reese McGuire could become an option. Similarly, the Orioles could look to sell high on Pedro Severino with Chance Sisco also there and Adley Rutschman being close to major-league ready. If the Rays pick up their option on Mike Zunino, they could deal him or Michael Pérez.

Outside the division, the Twins have a pair of solid, younger options in Willians Astudillo and Ryan Jeffers along with Mitch Garver. It should be mentioned, though, that Astudillo also plays other position so they could carry all three on the major-league roster. The A’s have Sean Murphy and Jonah Heim, making Austin Allen potentially expendable. The Cubs are one of the more fascinating teams to watch this winter, and while I don’t think Willson Contreras will be available they could look to move Victor Caratini, a bat-first catcher.

The Reds have prospect Tyler Stephenson ready to come up, which could make backup Curt Casali available. The Dodgers aren’t trading Will Smith, but Austin Barnes could be made available with prospect Keibert Ruiz ready to come up. Like Astudillo, though, Barnes can be used at spots besides catcher. The Padres traded for Austin Nola this summer and have prospect Luis Campusano coming up soon, which could make this the time to trade former top prospect Francisco Mejía.

Best Fits: If this was to replace Vázquez as a starter, there really aren’t a ton of good options. It would likely come down to a buy-low veteran in Garver or a post-hype approach in Mejía. I would probably prefer Mitch Garver, but your mileage may vary. There are a bunch of potential backups, though, with Curt Casali likely topping my list. He’s a veteran who has been solid-average across the board for a long time and is coming off a big year at the plate.

Parting thoughts

Given the dearth of options at this position generally across the league, there are actually some solid options for a catcher-needy team. That said, I don’t see enough of an upgrade (unless Realmuto’s market crashes) that it would be worth deviating from what the Red Sox currently have on the roster. That seems to me to be shuffling the deck just for the sake of shuffling the deck.