In an offseason as slow as this one, sometimes the minor details stand out much more than they normally would. That was the case earlier this month when the Giants announced that they had re-signed catcher Chadwick Tromp to a major league deal.
When Tromp was a surprise non-tender a few days earlier, it seemed a good bet the Giants wanted the open 40-man spot and would possibly try to bring Tromp back on a non-roster deal with a chance to win his spot back in spring training. But president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said earlier this week that the Giants thought the "all-around package" Tromp brought in 2020 merited a major league contract.
Tromp's first year in San Francisco is an interesting one to study, in that it is one of the clearest signs yet of how evaluation has changed at Oracle Park. By traditional methods, Tromp had a rough season, batting .213 with 20 strikeouts to one walk. He got caught up in the catcher interference sequence that was so maddening early on, and a lot of fans, and even members of the broadcast team, had an issue with the way Tromp and other Giants catchers dropped to one knee to try and frame pitches.
But the Giants see a 25-year-old with minor league numbers and summer camp at-bats that they trust as much as the 64 scattered plate appearances Tromp got in his rookie season. They also see that the style behind the plate worked. Tromp ranked sixth among MLB catchers in Baseball Prospectus' called strikes above average and 21st in Baseball Savant's strike rate. He was elite when it came to stealing strikes, a trait valued very highly by Zaidi and this new coaching staff.
"One of Chadwick's strongest attributes obviously is his framing, his receiving. He is a guy who ranked really among the top of the league in terms of those numbers and those are numbers that teams put a lot of value on," Zaidi said. "I actually think it's a little bit of a disservice to him to focus too much on that because he did a really nice job not just with the receiving but with game management, game calling, and developed really good relationships with our staff."
Tromp also developed good relationships with the pitchers, so much so that he became Johnny Cueto's personal catcher. That led to Tromp starting 19 games behind the plate before a right shoulder strain ended his season on Sept. 22. Zaidi said signing Tromp to a major league deal also allowed for an additional physical to see how the shoulder was progressing, and the Giants "got really positive feedback on that."
Tromp is again the third catcher on the 40-man roster, joining Buster Posey and Joey Bart. Posey will return in the role he has had for a decade, and Bart is likely to start the year in the minors to get additional developmental work in. Right now, Tromp would be the backup catcher, but Zaidi has said a couple of times this offseason that the Giants are looking at free agents. In particular, they could use a left-handed bat, someone to compete with Tromp in spring training.
"He's certainly a strong candidate," Zaidi said. "We think he'll benefit from this experience and be better next year, but we're talking about a number of different ways to improve the roster and our depth and adding another catcher is certainly a possibility."
Tromp would surely embrace the competition. He came into the original spring training buried on the depth chart, but by the end of summer camp it was clear that he was one of the two best catchers on the roster. The next couple of months were a disappointment from an offensive standpoint, but the Giants are confident that the increased power and patience that showed in the minors is still in there.
"We think there's untapped offensive potential," Zaidi said. "We saw it in his time in Triple-A in 2019 and we saw it in summer camp when he hit a number of home runs and got people excited. Once we got into the season he was obviously battling the shoulder issue and had some ups and downs offensively, but we think there's more in there from an offensive standpoint."