2021 Catcher Options

Friday, October 30 2020 @ 08:14 PM EDT

Contributed by: John Northey

Part 3: Now for the position with a premium free agent, maybe the #1 free agent, available for the right price. Jays have kids. Lets see if the Jays should consider blowing a fortune on an upgrade.

Currently here....
Minors listing all guys with 10+ games behind the plate at a level in 2019...
A couple coming up, Kirk is promising and appears ready, Jansen & McGuire both dropping fast imo from potential stars to backups.  A reminder that the Jays have sucked royally at developing catchers historically.  Best ever was Carlos Delgado but he only caught 2 games in the majors, Ed Sprague also caught in the minors but just 18 times in the majors.  J.P. Arencibia just got to 1.9 WAR lifetime.  Pat Borders was probably the best ever developed who stayed behind the plate, but just 3.6 WAR over his 17 ML seasons.  Greg Myers did well getting to 7.3 WAR.  But yeah, this has historically been a problem area for the Jays and they gave away Yan Gomes (14 WAR lifetime) for nothing (OK, Esmil Rogers).  Free agents were needed to get peaks.  Best ones were probably Ernie Whitt (expansion draft), and Russell Martin (free agent).

What about free agents?
  • J.T. Realmuto: the big one - 123 OPS+ this year, 111 lifetime, his DRS was -1 in 2020 after a +12 the year before (sounds like Jansen), lifetime -4.  BR has him as a +0.1 dWAR in 2020, 5.1 lifetime.  He will be very expensive, in a normal year he'd have cost far more than Martin did (5/$82) but lord knows what he will cost this winter.
  • Yadier Molina: any chance he leaves St Louis?  Nah. Not for less than a kings ransom.
  • Wilson Ramos: 88 OPS+ last year, 103 lifetime. Solid on defense.
  • James McCann:  144 OPS+ last year, but his 86 lifetime is more realistic.  Solid on defense.
Really, after Realmuto there isn't much if you assume Molina is not going anywhere, unless you think McCann is for real.

What about trades?  Lets check various teams...
  • Top tier (Team sOPS+ at CA over 120 - 9 teams)
    • KC - Salvador Perez 161 OPS+ vs 101 lifetime at age 30 after missing 2019 (Tommy John surgery).  Signed for $14 mil in 2021 then a free agent.  dWAR solid every year of his career, 0.4 the lowest (rookie and last year).  Just 156 PA in 2020 and Cam Gallagher (entering age 29 season) who had a 115 OPS+ vs career 81, not a free agent until after 2024.  0.2 to 0.3 dWAR each of the past 3 years.  Could see Perez going in an effort to cut payroll plus with free agency looming and coming off an amazing limited playing time season.  However, he is popular there so it might be hard.
    • Philly: J.T. Realmuto is a free agent (see above), Andrew Knapp at 28 had a great 89 PA 129 OPS+ but Philly will be holding any catcher they can
    • ChiSox: Yasmani Grandal at 31 had a solid year with a 113 OPS+ vs career 115.  Just 0.1 dWAR after a -0.6 season but lifetime 3.4 to the good.  Signed for 3 more years at $18 mil per.  Not going anywhere.  McCann was the backup (see above)
    • Boston: Christian Vazquez entering his age 30 season he did well in 2020 with a 114 OPS+ while top backup Kevin Plawecki did even better at 130.  Vazquez is signed for under $8 mil a year for the next 2 years so he isn't going anywhere.
    • Atlanta: Travis d'Arnaud finally lived up to the hype with a 138 OPS+ season.  Negative dWAR in 3 of the past 5 years, the other 2 were 0.0.  Signed for $8 mil in 2021.  Gotta figure he is staying put.
    • Dodgers: Will Smith had a 164 OPS+ in his 2nd ML season - geez, the rich get richer.
    • Reds: Tucker Barnhart was just a 77 as their #1, but Curt Casali the backup had a 126 OPS+ vs his lifetime 95.  Just his 2nd year of arbitration so not available.
    • Washington: Yan Gomes - probably the best catcher the Jays ever developed but just 111 PA here.  107 OPS+ in 2020, 91 lifetime, positive dWAR every season. Signed for $6 mil for 2021. Would be shocked if he was traded.
    • Angels: Max Stassi had a great year with a 139 OPS+  but just 90 PA and 2 years until free agency. 
  • In truth the other teams aren't worth digging into imo - as why would the Jays trade for anything less than above average when we have a serviceable CA in Jansen already?
  • FYI: worst was Cleveland by a mile with a 30 sOPS+ from their catchers.  Their best had a sOPS+ of 55 as a catcher.  Ugh.
Jays ranked 24th in Catcher OPS+ due to McGuire's -38, Jansen was a 93, Joseph 98, Kirk 205 (421/450/632 while catching but just 20 PA) but Jansen's stats on their own would've been 15th (Miami) and a 103 was needed for top 10 (Oakland).

So short of Realmuto or stealing Perez from KC I don't see much there, and Perez would be a big risk as he is coming off a very obvious career year and is a free agent after 2021.  My gut says to stay put unless Realmuto is willing to sign for far less than expected due to a dead market.