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2021-2022 Offseason Preview: The catching market

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The lack of depth here sheds light on Boston’s decision to keep Christian Vázquez.

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American League Championship Series Game 5: Houston Astros v. Boston Red Sox Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

With option decisions having been made and the five-day window after the World Series closed, we are now officially in free agency and player movement should be upon us. (The CBA situation is likely to slow down that progress, but players can change teams now.) For the coming week, every day we will look at a new position group of free agents and trade candidates, finding some who may or may not be fits for the Red Sox this winter. Note that this is not a complete list of free agents and trade targets. We start today by looking behind the plate at the catching crop.

Where the Red Sox stand now

The Red Sox made the decision on Sunday to keep Christian Vázquez for the 2022 season, picking up his $7 million option. There is, I suppose, the possibility of turning around and trading him and then looking for an upgrade outside the organization, but that seems like something of a remote possibility. More likely is that he is their starter. Behind him on the depth chart, Kevin Plawecki is arbitration-eligible this winter with a projected salary of $2 million. Boston also has a pair of prospects knocking on the door in Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernández, both of whom are on the 40-man as well.

Free Agents

2021 numbers and team(s) in parentheses

  • Robinson Chirinos (CHC; 112 PA, .227/.324/.454, 108 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR)
  • Yan Gomes (WAS/OAK; 375 PA, .252/.301/.421, 93 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR)
  • Manny Piña (MIL; 208 PA, .189/.293/.439, 95 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR)
  • Wilson Ramos (DET/CLE; 163 PA, .205/.248/.397, 72 wRC+, -0.4 fWAR)
  • Pedro Severino (BAL; 419 PA, .248/.308/.383, 87 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR)
  • Kurt Suzuki (LAA; 247 PA, .224/.294/.342, 76 wRC+, -0.4 fWAR)

If you would like a window into why the Red Sox likely did not have to think too hard about picking up the option for Vázquez for 2022, you needn’t look beyond the free agent market at the position for this offseason. Catching is one of the most important positions on the diamond, but finding a two-way player behind the plate is much easier said than done, and on the open market there really doesn’t exist a great starting option. Gomes and Piña are the best options available right now, but even they are probably better off being in a backup role than one every day, especially defensively. The other names here are veterans who are likely to land either as backups on non-contenders or third catchers who are brought in with a camp invite. It is not an encouraging group.

Potential Trade Partners

  • Chicago Cubs: The Cubs look to be entering something of a rebuild. They started offloading talent over the season, and Willson Contreras could be the next on the move.
  • Tampa Bay Rays: Mike Zunino is coming off a strong season behind the plate for the Rays, but he’s owed $7 million for 2022 and the Rays have a Francisco Mejía behind him on the depth chart.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates are clearly still in the midst of their rebuild, and while Jacob Stallings is a solid all-around player he’s over 30 and not part of Pittsburgh’s window.
  • Toronto Blue Jays: The Jays don’t have to make a move here, but they have three solid young backstops in Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, and Reese McGuire. One could be on the move.
  • Chicago White Sox: The Other Sox have four catchers on the 40-man. Yasmani Grandal is not going anywhere, but one of Zack Collins, Yermín Mercedes, and Seby Savala could be.
  • Seattle Mariners: With prospect Cal Raleigh having already gotten a taste of the majors, one of Tom Murphy or Luis Torrens could be on the move.

While the free agent market was totally lacking in starting options, there are actually a few available here. Contreras is clearly the top name available and anyone looking for catching help will turn here first. His framing numbers have been inconsistent, but he’s at least a solid defensive backstop and he’s been an above-average hitter by wRC+ every year of his career. The 29-year-old (he’ll be 30 next May) is a free agent after next season, so while he won’t be had for nothing he also shouldn’t cost a massive package by any means, either.

Contreras is the top option, but beyond that I think my favorite would be Stallings. I don’t suspect this is a market the Red Sox will be in with Vázquez back in the fold, but if they had let him walk this would be the best combination of cost and talent, in my mind at least. He won’t carry the load offensively, but he’s not a black hole either, finishing with a 95 wRC+ this past season. On top of that, he’s an outstanding defensive catcher. He is under control through 2024, though he’s also going to be 32 next season, so it’s not a long-term addition.

For the Red Sox, he could be an option if they decide to move on from Kevin Plawecki. A Stallings/Vázquez pairing would be great defensively, and they are close enough in true talent that they could have something close to a 50/50 split and keep both fresh. Obviously, all of this would depend on cost. That pairing would be effective, but it would also be more of a luxury than a need and wouldn’t be worth breaking the bank in terms of prospects.