Coming off a monumentally disappointing 71-91 season, the Colorado Rockies find themselves with some holes to fill on their roster. One of those holes being behind the plate.
In an article for The Denver Post, Patrick Saunders wrote that incumbent catcher Tony Wolters provides good defense, but that the Rockies need a backup for him.
While Wolters is a great dude, good in the clubhouse, and an excellent catch-and-throw guy, his .666 OPS and 62 wRC+ are the kind of offensive black hole a team that aims to contend cannot afford in its lineup, especially with the Rockies’ offensive issues elsewhere. To me, Wolters looks like an ideal backup, and what the Rockies really need going into 2020 is a starting catcher.
The obvious answer for the Rockies, or any team looking for a catcher on the free agent market, would be Yasmani Grandal. Grandal has a $16 million mutual option with the Brewers for next season, which he’ll likely decline on account of the great season he just had. Which means he’ll command more money. The Rockies have already said that they lack payroll flexibility for 2020, so he’s probably not coming to 20th and Blake.
Grandal isn’t the only option on the free agent market though. Here are four catchers that could help give the Rockies a boost next year. Perhaps not coincidentally, all four were on playoff teams in 2019.
Flowers is likely the longest shot of the group, simply because the Braves have a $6 million club option on his contract for 2020, and with Brian McCann retiring, they will likely exercise said option. If Flowers does come on the market, the biggest pro for picking him up would be his excellent pitch framing ability, with both Statcast and Baseball Prospectus rating him among the top five pitch framers in the league in 2019.
At the plate, Flowers hit .229/.319/.413 in 310 plate appearances for the Braves this year, with 11 home runs. Of concern is the fact that his strikeout rate spiked to 33.9% in 2019, the highest number for the 33-year-old since 2014 with the White Sox.
Castro has battled knee and elbow injuries in the last two seasons with the Twins, but when he was healthy in 2019 he produced solid numbers. Castro hit .232/.332/.435 in 275 plate appearances with the Twins this year for a wRC+ of 103, hitting 13 home runs and accumulating 0.7 rWAR (1.6 fWAR).
A significant portion of Castro’s value comes from him being a plus defender behind the plate. He rated as an above average-to-good pitch framer in 2019, depending on which framing stats you like and is right about average at throwing runners out. Castro finished up a three-year, $24.5 million deal with the Twins this season, but his market may be tough to assess given his recent injuries.
The Astros will likely look to bring Chirinos back after a career year in 2019. The 35-year-old hit .238/.347/.443 for Houston this year with 17 home runs and a 113 wRC+ and 3.8 rWAR (2.3 fWAR). He has also posted a walk rate of at least 10.6% in each of the last three seasons, and patience at the plate is something the Rockies have sorely lacked in recent years.
Chirinos rated as an adequate pitch framer in 2019 but an above-average defensive catcher overall thanks to elite blocking skills (seriously, close to six runs above league average just by blocking). He signed a one-year deal with the Astros this year for $5.75 million, so with a good season under his belt he may cost the Rockies slightly more than that for 2020.
After being DFA’d by the Mets and traded by the Dodgers, d’Arnaud went on to have a solid 2019 season with the Rays. With Tampa he hit .263/.323/.459 with 16 home runs in 365 plate appearances. He also rates as an above-average defensive catcher across the board.
d’Arnaud might just be the Goldilocks option for the Rockies. The youngest of this quartet at age 30, he had his final year of arbitration in 2019, making $3.515 million. Given recent trends in the free agent market (you know, the ones where nobody gets paid unless you’re Manny Machado or Bryce Harper), the Rockies could probably get d’Arnaud on a similar contract to the two-year, $8.5 million deal they gave Chris Iannetta prior to 2018.
Grabbing a guy like d’Arnaud, Chirinos, or Flowers on the cheap to pair with Wolters behind the plate is the kind of move smart teams make to improve their depth and win a few more games than they otherwise would have, and as Rockies fans have seen in recent years, a few wins can be a big deal.