2018-19 Free Agency Preview: Catchers
Beginning this Saturday, baseball’s free agents will be eligible to sign with any team they want.
We’re in the process of breaking down the best available free agents by position, with some special attention paid to the top guys at each spot. We’ve already done starting pitchers, relief pitchers, outfielders, middle infielders, and corner infielders. Now let’s do catchers.
Kind of an underwhelming list. Despite a subpar postseason showing both offensively and defensively, Yasmani Grandal is the top catcher on this list and will be pursued as such. Grandal turns 30 next week, but has been an above-average hitter every year of his career. By adjusted OPS, 2018 was his best offensive showing in the regular season to date, finishing with a .241/.349/.466 triple-slash line along with 24 home runs and 68 RBI in 518 plate appearances.
I have Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki in the next echelon of free agent catchers. Ramos is coming off of a terrific season split between the Rays and Phillies, batting an aggregate .306/.358/.487 with 15 home runs and 70 RBI in 416 plate appearances. He’s 31 years old and is a below average defender, but very few catchers in baseball can match his bat. Suzuki, meanwhile, had another good year behind the dish for the Braves while swinging an above-average stick. He had a .776 OPS with 12 homers and 50 RBI.
The third tier of catchers includes Nick Hundley, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado, Jeff Mathis, Brian McCann, and Matt Wieters. These guys all have much bigger holes in their game compared to the catchers above them. Hundley and Maldonado play solid defense while Lucroy and McCann will draw interest based on their reputations as hitters, even if their best years are behind them.
The rest of the list includes catchers who will either retire or settle for minor league deals most likely.
The Yankees could get in on the action here, emboldened by the subpar year Gary Sánchez had. It would seem they would, however, prioritize acquire Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto first. A Realmuto trade might not happen until February and the likes of Grandal, Ramos, and Suzuki will likely be off the board by then.
The Nationals were the most involved in Realmuto trade talks leading up to last July’s non-waiver trade deadline. If they feel like a Realmuto acquisition is further out of the question, a reunion with Wieters or Ramos would make sense, as would spending big to bring in Grandal.
Braves ownership has been historically stingy, so it would seem unlikely they make a bid for Grandal. Bringing Suzuki back into the fold would make sense but the club may feel like Tyler Flowers can handle a starting role after signing him to an extension in August. Nick Hundley would also be a fit for the Braves.
The Phillies seem committed to starting Jorge Alfaro. As good as Wilson Ramos was for them in the second half last year, the club would more prominently need a veteran backup to eschew Andrew Knapp. That role might better be filled by a Martin Maldonado or Jeff Mathis.
Staying in the NL East, the Mets’ catching depth chart currently includes Kevin Plawecki and Tomas Nido. It’s hard to say right now exactly how new GM Brodie Van Wagenen plans to approach the offseason. A few big free agent signings lands the Mets back into NL East contention. The catching position is clearly one of need for the Mets.
Losing both McCann and Maldonado to free agency, the Astros may want to go big on a starting catcher and move Max Stassi to a backup role. Adding Grandal might be the biggest improvement the club can realistically make on offense given everyone else’s cemented status.
Similarly, the Dodgers are losing Grandal to free agency. Grandal was booed by home fans during the postseason due to a series of defensive miscues, so there is a chance that neither the Dodgers nor Grandal is interested in a reunion. Realmuto is baseball’s best catcher at the moment, so expect the Dodgers to prioritize that over the otherwise underwhelming list of free agent catchers.