The Oakland A’s catching situation is complicated. The front office has stated that Bruce Maxwell is the guy at the present moment, but there’s a court proceeding coming up and who knows if or to what extent that might change things.
Even with an available Maxwell, the A’s might be well-suited to see what’s out there. Josh Phegley had a poor 2017 with some injuries mixed in, and while his contract is far from prohibitive, the fact that he’s reached arbitration means it’s time to consider other options. Phegley is only an option against left-handed pitching, and the rigors of catching make sticking to that strict platoon schedule difficult. Finding a backup catcher who is capable against both hands would be a nice luxury to have.
With that, let’s check out the catching market.
What are the A’s looking for?
That question obviously depends mostly on Maxwell’s status. Operating on the assumption that the A’s are looking for a full-time catcher, they’ll want someone who can hit reasonably well against right-handers.
With the A’s pitching looking like their biggest question mark and their lineup looking like it has quality throughout, it might be wise to prioritize defense in whoever the A’s choose. Last year’s backstops collectively ranked 27th in the league per FanGraphs defensive numbers due to their poor pitch framing, mediocre stolen base suppression, and inability to prevent wild pitches and passed balls. Obviously, a lot of this falls on the pitchers. But if those pitchers stick around (and they will), it might behoove the A’s to find another way to prevent runs.
Do keep in mind that the predictability of some defensive catching stats is often ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Also keep in mind that the World Series champs graded out as having the worst defensive catching stats, so again, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. At the same time, those same Astros employed noted angry-man Brian McCann who is beloved by pitchers, a mark in favor of prioritizing run prevention at catcher.
Free agents and their contract predictions per MLB Trade Rumors
Alex Avila - Two years, $16 million
Avila is coming off a fabulous year with the bat and has a great reputation with pitchers too. He hits left-handed, making him a candidate to take on full-time catching duties, and after his stellar 2017 he’ll assuredly be looking for a home where he can take on a larger role than he’s had before. That gives the A’s a potential leg up, as few teams out there can offer regular playing time.
This little nugget from MLBTR is enticing as well.
It’s eye-opening to see that among players with 300 plate appearances in 2017, the only one who posted a higher hard-contact rate than Avila’s 48.7 percent was former teammate J.D. Martinez.
Wellington Castillo - Two years $14 million
The A’s best chance of making the postseason is through the Wild Card game, and for some reason I think we all might like to have a strong throwing arm behind the dish. Castillo threw out 49% of base-stealers in 2017, the best number in baseball. You can see why.
Like Avila, Castillo has quietly put together a solid career, consistently grading out as an above-average player. His downfall has been his endurance, and signing Castillo would put an increased importance on a solid and dynamic backup.
As far as catchers go, you can do a lot worse.
Jonathan Lucroy - Two years, $24 million
Unlike the drink, Lucroy the catcher had a bit of a rough year. Lucroy was the prized piece of the 2016 deadline during a fantastic season in which he did it all.
In 2017, Lucroy did only some. His famed framing skills disappeared, maybe because umpires adjusted, maybe because the rest of the league put increased importance on framing, or maybe cause Lucroy really did get worse. His bat faltered too, namely his power which fell to a career worst.
Even with that bad season, Lucroy was fine. Nothing amazing, but nothing to sneeze at either.
Lucroy offers the highest upside of anyone on this list, giving whoever he signs with a chance at one of those Frank Thomas bounce-back All-Star seasons on the cheap. He’s just a year removed from a 4.6 fWAR season, and while his age is a factor he’s still young enough to replicate what he did in 2016.
Lucroy will likely look to sign a bit of a pillow contract, potentially a one-year deal to reclaim some value before signing the final contract of his career. If that’s the case, the Rockies are in the driver’s seat compared to the A’s — there’s no place to put up a great season quite like Coors.
There’s ample talk around AN about Yasmani Grandal. The Dodgers have another backstop in Austin Barnes who will be around for years to come, leading some to believe the Dodgers will cash in on Grandal before he hits free agency.
I’m a little more skeptical than others that Grandal will actually move. Barnes has certainly shown promise, but Grandal was the guy for most of 2017. He’s still a quietly good-to-great player, and while the Dodgers could afford to lose him they’re in the midst of their window. They have to win a World Series now, and the future is less of a concern.
It’s no mystery why many around here want Grandal, and his skillset would certainly fit in with any team. He’s a good hitter from both sides and has a fantastic defensive reputation.
The issue is, even if he’s available, he’s not exactly what the A’s should be targeting. One-year deals for free agents are fine, but trading for a rental is a different proposition, specifically for someone of Grandal’s ilk. The Dodgers won’t let him go for cheap, if they do at all. The A’s shouldn’t pay a steep price for rentals.
If the A’s are in need of a catcher, who should they target?
This poll is closed