CARLSBAD, Calif. — The Cubs have plenty of items on their offseason wish list — from adding more offense to bullpen help to finalizing the coaching staff.
Add veteran backup catcher and clubhouse leadership to that group, too.
David Ross isn't coming out of retirement, but the Cubs could kill two birds with one stone — so to speak — by adding a veteran catcher as Willson Contreras' backup who also can provide another respected voice inside the clubhouse.
Contreras caught 43.1 more innings than any other backstop in baseball in 2018 as he had only rookie Victor Caratini and light-hitting veteran Chris Gimenez as backup behind him.
It's impossible to say how much of an impact all that catching had on Contreras' offense or overall game as he slumped in the second half of the season, but it's entirely possible it played a significant role in the downturn in production.
The Cubs like Caratini as a ballplayer and he started to develop a nice rapport with the pitching staff down the stretch, but he's still an inexperienced player (only 266 career plate appearances) and likely has plenty of growing pains ahead of him as both a hitter and game manager.
So as the Cubs consider making some real change to the lineup and to a clubhouse that lacked an edge and sense of urgency in 2018, adding a veteran backup catcher could be a small move that may pay serious dividends in 2019.
"It's something we're considering," Theo Epstein said Wednesday at MLB's GM Meetings in Southern California. "I think Caratini's a really talented player and definitely has a role on this team and in this organization, but we're looking at a little bit of veteran leadership to the group and there's only a couple places we can do that. So I'd call it a possibility."
Obviously that's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but there's also no benefit for Epstein to show his hand at the moment.
It's clear the Cubs need to do something to augment their catching depth as Taylor Davis is the only guy in the system with MLB experience beyond Contreras and Caratini.
The Seattle Mariners just traded away their catcher this week, but at 27 years old, Mike Zunino doesn't exactly profile as a backup catcher since he's still a guy capable of drawing the lion's share of playing time behind the dish.
So who could the Cubs target this winter?
It'd be hard to see the Cubs out-bidding any teams for the top two catchers on the market — 30-year-old Yasmani Grandal and 31-year-old Wilson Ramos, who are both guys deserving of full-time roles.
But there are plenty of veterans out there in free agency in sort of the "Grandpa Rossy" mold Cubs fans love so much — guys like A.J. Ellis, former Cub Rene Rivera, Nick Hundley and possibly Jonathan Lucroy (who caught the second-most innings in 2018 behind Contreras and is now 32 with a precipitous dip in offensive production the last two seasons).
Brian McCann is an interesting name as a respected leader who will turn 35 in February, a left-handed hitter (who could spell Contreras against tough right-handed pitchers) and a proven winner between his time with the Braves, Yankees and the last two years with the Astros.
34-year-old veteran Stephen Vogt missed all of 2017 with an injury, but is a two-time All-Star who hits left-handed and can play a number of other positions including first base and the outfield. The Cubs could take a flier on the former Brewer assuming the medicals check out.
Another intriguing option on the open market is former Cubs farmhand Robinson Chirinos. He spent the first 10 years of his professional career in the Cubs minor-league system before being shipped to Joe Maddon's Rays in the Chris Archer/Matt Garza deal.
Chirinos, 34, has turned himself into a valuable catcher over the last few seasons with the Texas Rangers, emerging as a legitimate power threat under hitting coach Anthony Iapoce, who moved from the Rangers to the Cubs this offseason. Chirinos has hit 35 homers with 103 RBI and a .347 on-base percentage in 735 plate appearances over the last two seasons.