One of the Oakland A’s top positional battles this spring was at catcher, with three players competing for two spots on the Home Opening Day roster. However, one of those names appears to be out of the running, as Chris Herrmann needs surgery on his right knee, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.
Slusser went on to explain the following:
A’s [trainer] Nick Paparesta said that Chris Herrmann needs some cleanup of cartilage and bone chips in his right knee, there is a fissure to repair but no ligament damage. It’s arthroscopic but no timetable given for return because extent of damage unknown until they’re in there.
The news was confirmed by insider Jane Lee, who added the following note:
A’s head trainer Nick Paparesta says Herrmann will get a second opinion before undergoing what would be arthroscopic knee surgery.
The A’s signed the 31-year-old Herrmann to a one-year, $1 million contract early in the offseason. The left-handed batter was slotted to be one half of a platoon behind the plate, with righties Josh Phegley and Nick Hundley vying to be the other half. The unheralded and versatile Herrmann hasn’t ever gotten a chance to be a full-time catcher in the bigs, but that’s what Oakland was planning to give him.
So you just lost your primary starting catcher two weeks before your first game, and three weeks before the proper start of the season. What do you do now? The A’s have the following options:
- Just roll with the other two guys who were already competing for the last spot (Phegley and Hundley)
- Rush your top Triple-A prospect to fill a short-term hole on the MLB roster (Sean Murphy)
- Sign an external replacement (Martin Maldonado?)
We can probably cross one of those possibilities off the list right away, as Slusser opines that it’s “unlikely [the] team will rush Sean Murphy with so little Triple-A experience.” Murphy is a national Top 100 prospect and a potential star behind the plate, and the 24-year-old could easily debut sometime in 2019, but he’s played exactly three games at the Triple-A level.
On the other hand, the promise of Murphy’s imminent arrival could still potentially play a role in the team’s decision-making. If they decide that he’s close enough, perhaps they’d be willing to stick with their current stopgaps until he gets here rather than spending resources to fill what might only be a real hole for a couple months. On top of Phegley and Hundley, they also have lefty Beau Taylor as an emergency option who has at least appeared in MLB before. Furthermore, the eventual prognosis of Herrmann’s injury in the coming days could obviously make a difference in which direction they choose.
If Oakland does look toward the open market, then the available options have gotten thin. It’s pretty much just Martin Maldonado at this point. And he’s a great option! He’s a Gold Glove defender who doesn’t hit much (career 72 wRC+) but at least has a little bit of power, and for many on Athletics Nation he was the guy we wanted from the beginning of the offseason anyway. He’s another righty hitter, but at this point beggars can’t be choosers.
The question is whether the A’s see this hole as enough of a need to spend whatever it would take to bring in Maldonado. To answer that, we’ll need to know how long Herrmann will be out for, and how much they’re willing to gamble on Murphy arriving sooner rather than later.
There’s also the question of what the 32-year-old Maldonado would actually cost. He’s a good player but not a star producer, and the going rate for solid veteran catchers seems to be in the range of $3 million (Lucroy) to $6 million (Chirinos). His leverage is low, as every day that goes by is another day closer to the season starting without him having a job. Last year the A’s waited until March 12 to sign Lucroy and got a relative bargain at the time (compared with what he was expected to get at the outset of the winter), so perhaps they could hit the same last-minute fortune this time around and snag Maldonado cheap.
If not Maldonado, the next-most notable option is probably Evan Gattis, who caught four innings last season and has made only 35% of his career starts at the position (he’s mostly been a DH). Or a minor trade for someone who doesn’t make the cut on their current team. Or there’s always the Misfit Toy mystery option — the player you’ve never heard of and/or who hasn’t ever been a catcher before, as the A’s often love to come up with.
Hot take: Personally, my initial reaction is to stand pat. I’m not advocating for Murphy on Opening Day, but I’d be willing to gamble that he’ll force his way up in the first half of the season. If the A’s wanted to spend on a catcher then they would have done it already; heck, even Matt Wieters went for just a minor league contract, and Kurt Suzuki didn’t break the bank either. Instead they signed Hundley to a minors deal, and I’m not really sure that losing solid stopgap Herrmann adds any more urgency to the situation than that which they’ve refrained from showing all winter.
All that said, Maldonado was my preferred target back in November, so if they ended up getting him in the end then I wouldn’t complain.
Stay tuned for more details as this story develops!