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2023 Offseason Outlook: Catcher

Are the Red Sox already set at the catcher position for 2023 or will they look to add?

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Over the course of this series I will go position by position around the diamond to look at what options the Red Sox have for each position in 2023. We’ll look at what players are currently under team control or under contract, who’s in the upper minors, and what options there are in free agency. And finally, I’ll give my suggestions for how the Sox should approach each position. I hope this will serve as a useful primer to what I expect to be a pivotal offseason for the team.

Players On The Roster In 2023

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With just over two-years of service time Reese McGuire is the only experienced major league catcher that the Red Sox have under control next season and beyond as he is set to enter his first year of arbitration. It seems like a no-brainer that the Red Sox will indeed continue to roster him as his first year of arbitration is likely to be relatively inexpensive. McGuire has proven adept at defense and game calling and hit surprisingly well with the Red Sox. He is a completely adequate option as part of a platoon and the Red Sox could do much worse.

Players In The Upper Minors With A Chance To Contribute In 2023

Catcher is one of the weakest positions for the Red Sox across all minor league levels, as there is no one player who can be clearly projected for a fulltime Major league role. Connor Wong is the best option, having spent most of 2022 at Triple-A Worcester before getting significant time with Boston in September. I don’t want to undersell Wong, but right now he profiles more as a good backup or platoon partner than a future starter. If the Red Sox want to pursue an inexpensive option at the position, they could just roll with Wong and McGuire split the catching duties.

Wong has shown massive improvement at the plate in Triple-A, upping his walk rate, cutting his strikeout rate, and finding his power. Reports on his receiving and game calling skills are still quite good. With so many young pitchers at the major league level, many of those players have had time to develop a relationship with Wong in the minor leagues. All of the major league pitchers who he’s caught seem to enjoy throwing to him and he’s surprisingly athletic for a catcher.

Other catchers in the upper minors that could be used at some point include Ronaldo Hernández, Stephen Scott and Nathan Hickey. I find it exceedingly unlikely, however, that any of them get any time in Boston. Hernández has had success with his bat this season, but his defense at catcher is poor enough that’s he’s made 30 starts at designated hitter. Scott and Hickey require even more work defensively and profile as bat-first guys at the position. And Hickey, who is by far the more interesting of the two, has yet to debut in Double-A, but he should start there in 2023.

Options In Free Agency

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There is no clear cut top guy in this class, no J.T. Realmuto, who excels on both sides of the ball. The premier free agent at catcher is Willson Contreras who is coming off one of his best ever offensive seasons at age 30. The problem with Contreras is that he’s likely to be very expensive and his framing and defensive metrics grade out poorly. I doubt that Bloom will pursue him given what we know about how Bloom values defense at the position. That being said if the Red Sox feel like the robot ump is coming as soon as 2024 it may make sense to go with a big time offensive producer like Contreras.

The most enticing options that represent an upgrade over what the Red Sox already have are Mike Zunino and Omar Narvaez. Although Bloom has some familiarity with Zunino from their time together in 2019, his future is clouded with uncertainty. Zunino underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery this past year and, aside from a few big home run years, has been a very poor offensive player for most of his career. I doubt Bloom would be willing to bank on him returning to form and regaining his 2021 offensive capabilities during what will be his age 32 season.

Narvaez is the most likely option due to his good defense, excellent framing skills, and decent offensive performance. With all of the aforementioned niceties about Narvaez, I still don’t entirely believe that he would be a big enough upgrade over Wong to justify spending the money on him. I don’t think Bloom will pursue the option of bringing back Christian Vazquez, because ultimately I believe his flaws led him to being traded away. Vazquez is a pretty strong hitter for a catcher and is a durable player, it just seems the team will look elsewhere.

My Suggestion

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I would do one of two things at this position, either run it back with McGuire and Wong or trade for Sean Murphy. The free agent class isn’t great and McGuire and Wong are very good defensively. If the team goes this route they can dedicate more of their financial resources to shoring up other holes.

If they decide to trade minor league assets to acquire Murphy, someone who they were interested in at the trade deadline, they will be getting the second most valuable catcher in baseball during the 2022 season behind only Realmuto in fWAR. While Realmuto is 31, Murphy is just 27 and should continue to be excellent for a very long time. Murphy is coming off a career year in home runs, RBI, runs, batting average, and fWAR, but most impressive is his defense. Over the past two seasons only Jose Trevino has been worth more than Murphy in FanGraphs’ Def stat, an all encompassing measure of defense, third on that list is none other than Realmuto.

My prediction is that the trade ultimately doesn’t get done, but I hope to be wrong. If the Red Sox were to put together a trade package I’d think it would be headlined by one of Ceddanne Rafaela or Nick Yorke and include at least two other relatively high end prospects. I’d expect something like Rafaela, Bryan Mata, and Blaze Jordan would be needed to make it happen. I would happily pull the trigger on that trade and forget about the position for years to come.