Three Potential Catcher Upgrades on the Trade Market
Image courtesy of Orlando Ramirez, USA Today (J.T. Realmuto)Heading into the season, I called out the team's questionable catching depth as a primary concern. The Twins just didn't have much in the way of established commodities behind starter Jason Castro (who himself was basically an average player).
Two months in, Castro is out for the year and Minnesota's iffy catching depth is being put to the test. Mitch Garver had a solid April but since May 1st he is hitting .188/.278/.234 with three extra-base hits (all doubles) in 72 PA. The lack of production would be easy enough to live with if his defense stood out, but Paul Molitor doesn't appear to feel that way; why else would light-hitting minor-league journeyman Bobby Wilson (slashing .167/.196/.333 since his call-up) be getting so many reps?
I'm not giving up on Garver but realistically, he was a fringe prospect who isn't showing much offensively here at age 27. There isn't a ton of upside there. All of the organization's best catching prospects remain several years away. And while Castro is under contract for 2019, he'll be returning as a 31-year-old coming off major knee surgery.
The Twins could use a serious big-league addition at catcher, and not necessarily in the form of a 2018 rental. However, even that route would potentially yield a meaningful upgrade capable of making a pivotal impact.
As I look at the current landscape around the majors, there are three opportunities I see for making a splash and reeling in some serious help behind the plate. Here they are, from the least dramatic to the most (and I've gotta admit, Option C is my favorite right now).
Option A: Trade with the Atlanta Braves for Tyler Flowers
The Braves, who find themselves leading the NL East here in June, aren't in position to be dumping valuable assets, but they could live without Flowers. The 32-year-old is having another good season, slashing .270/.403/.444 after posting an .823 OPS last year, but he's in a timeshare with fellow veteran backstop (and former Twin) Kurt Suzuki.
Even with their surprisingly strong start, the Braves are still a young, future-minded team. Presumably they'd be open to shipping out Flowers, who's eligible for free agency after this season, in exchange for controllable talent with upside. Flowers has far more MLB experience than any of Minnesota's present fixtures, and is considered a strong pitch framer. Plus, his OBP skills would bolster the lower half of the Twins lineup.
A Suzuki reunion would also be possible, I suppose, but I prefer Flowers as a fit for this team.
Option B: Trade with the Oakland Athletics for Jonathan Lucroy
When Oakland signed Lucroy to a one-year, $6.5 million deal around the same time in March that Minnesota added Lance Lynn, it was assumed he'd be used as trade bait around the deadline. And even though the A's find themselves above the .500 mark two months in, that's still the likely plan. They have no real shot at contending in a division with three clearly superior teams.
The price to acquire Lucroy would probably be higher than a Flowers type, but not by a ton. At 31, Lucroy isn't the offensive force he once was — he has only one home run thus far — but he's a capable hitter and a steady vet with a .264 average and .338 OBP dating back to the start of last year.
Option C: Trade with the Miami Marlins for J.T. Realmuto
This is the "aim high" option and — in many ways — a very logical one. Unlike Flowers and Lucroy, Realmuto is still relatively young (he turned 27 in March) with multiple years of team control (he's arbitration eligible through 2020). He's also very good, with a .761 career OPS and a .301/.359/.510 line this year.
The Marlins were shopping Realmuto during the offseason, but he was one of the few attractive assets they ended up keeping (much to his chagrin). The Nationals are among the clubs that made a run at him, but ultimately they couldn't meet Miami's asking price. This tells us Minnesota will have to pony up if they want to make something happen, especially since Realmuto's having an excellent season.
But from my view, names like Stephen Gonsalves and Nick Gordon should be on the table. Realmuto is just that kind of commodity, capable of making a franchise-altering impact as the Twins (hopefully) enter their contention window.
What do you think? Do you have a preference among these options? Perhaps another trade scenario strikes your fancy? Or would you be satisfied with staying the course, letting Garver stay in the driver's seat while hoping someone like newly signed Triple-A farmhand Cameron Rupp can step in if needed?
Please share your thoughts in the comments if you've got 'em.
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