Where backup catcher ranks among Sox' offseason priorities

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

There are more pressing matters for the Chicago White Sox front office than bringing in a new backup catcher.

The team needs a starting second baseman and more help in a depleted bullpen. There's an opportunity to boost the lineup with a big bat in right field. And a shake-up in the starting rotation has been on plenty of fans' wish lists since the South Siders were quickly ousted from the playoffs.

But looking at the places on the roster that could benefit from an upgrade, the spot behind Yasmani Grandal on the catching depth chart is definitely among them.

RELATED: How Eloy could be Sox' most important 2022 addition

Zack Collins and Seby Zavala handled those duties in 2021, with mostly disappointing offensive results.

Zavala was leaned on heavily while Grandal underwent a lengthy recovery from midseason knee surgery, chiefly for his defensive ability, and it showed: Despite a three-homer game in July, he slashed just .183/.240/.376 on the season.

Collins, who earned rave reviews throughout the year for his growth behind the plate, showed off the on-base skills that made him an exciting young hitter in the minor leagues, with a .330 on-base percentage. But he slugged even worse than Zavala, with a .338 slugging percentage. Despite very limited playing time over the last three seasons, he boasts a career .195 batting average and 77 OPS+.


Meanwhile, all White Sox catchers experienced defensive difficulties, at times — the typically elite defender Grandal included — most noticeably when it came to controlling opposing base-stealers.

"Certainly there's room for improvement from both Seby and Zack," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said during the GM meetings last month in Southern California. "A lot was asked of them, especially after Yaz went down, so some of their development might have been rushed. But we think both of them can be even stronger defensively than what they displayed this year.

"You obviously hope your primary catcher, especially someone as important as Yaz is to us, is able to answer the bell as frequently as possible. But as he gets older — and we hopefully keep him strong for an extra month (for the postseason) — having someone in that backup role that we can feel confident in is important.

"I think a lot of our pitchers, over the course of the year, grew more and more confident with Seby and Zack, which is good, and we look forward to seeing how they show up in camp."

Indeed, White Sox pitchers had nothing but good things to say about working with Collins and Zavala both during spring training and throughout the 2021 campaign. But Hahn's point regarding dependability is an important one.

Though the White Sox will be watching players like Andrew Vaughn and Michael Kopech continue their developments at the major league level in 2022, it's undoubtedly winning time on the South Side, and bringing in a reliable backup for Grandal could help eliminate some of the uncertainty when it comes to what Collins and Zavala could provide, even in backup roles.

It might not be among Hahn's top priorities whenever baseball's lockout ends and he's able to resume his wintertime work. But the White Six finding a new No. 2 catcher is a possibility and something fans looking for the next move should keep in mind.

"Any way to get better is a target," Hahn said last month. "That's not the first target, let's say. ... But you've identified an area where we can potentially get better. We'll explore it. Will it happen? Hard to say."

A list of free-agent backup catchers is one that rarely excites, and the current one is no exception. Among those still out there looking for jobs:

— 37-year-old Robinson Chirinos, who had an above-average offensive season in limited action for the Chicago Cubs;

— two-time All Star backstop Wilson Ramos, who drove in 73 runs for the New York Mets in 2019 and hit poorly for a pair of American League Central rivals in 2021;

— 38-year-old noted White Sox killer Kurt Suzuki, who prior to a down year with the Los Angeles Angels in 2021 hit 50 homers and posted a 112 OPS+ over the previous four seasons;

— and younger guys like Chance Sisco, Grayson Greiner and former White Sox backup Kevan Smith.


Are any of those guys guaranteed to be better than Collins and Zavala? Good question. But at least a few of them are very experienced and could score points in the "at least you know what you're going to get" department. There's also the trade market, of course, which — like at second base — could provide more attractive options than what's available in free agency.

Obviously, as was the plan before his injury last season, Grandal is the White Sox' primary option behind the plate, and Hahn reiterated at the GM meetings that the hope is Grandal can play as often as possible. Grandal showed, too, that is the best-case scenario for the White Sox, putting up one of the best offensive seasons on the team, with a jaw-dropping .420 on-base percentage and .939 OPS.

But Grandal can't catch 162 games during the regular season and another month's worth, the team hopes, during the postseason. There will need to be someone behind him.

Maybe it ends up that upgrading at the No. 2 spot on the depth chart is low enough on the priority list that the team goes with the Collins-Zavala tandem for another season. Maybe the White Sox will make a move similar to the one they did last spring with Jonathan Lucroy and bring in a veteran on a minor league deal to challenge the two young guys in camp.

But like Hahn said, there's room for improvement. And a team trying to win the World Series will likely need to see that improvement if it wants to accomplish that ultimate goal.

Click here to follow the White Sox Talk Podcast.

Download MyTeams Today!