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Front Page: Hot Commodities: Catching Up on the Free Agent Catcher Market

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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 08:44 PM

While free agency in general is off to a now-customary slow start, that hasn't been the case at catcher. Already the position's top name is off the market – Yasmani Grandal signed a four-year, $73 million deal with the White Sox last week – and on Sunday, Travis d'Arnaud inked a surprisingly lucrative deal with Atlanta.

This is a clear area of need for the Twins, and if they hope to land their preferred target(s), they may need to act quickly.When putting together the Offseason Handbook, our presumption was that a crowded and relatively undifferentiated free agent catcher class would suppress salaries at the position, creating a buyer-friendly market. Early developments throw this premise into doubt.

Untethered to draft pick compensation, Grandal quickly found a home this time around, agreeing with Chicago on a hefty deal that exceeded our Handbook projection (4 years, $60M). That said, it was always clear Grandal was gonna get paid. Atlanta's contract with d'Arnaud is more eyebrow-raising.

On the surface, there wasn't much to separate d'Arnaud from any number of other middling backstops in free agency. He turns 31 in February, has generally been a part-time player, and hasn't posted an fWAR higher than 1.6 since 2015.

The 2019 season alone saw him designated for assignment and released by the Mets, then signed by the Dodgers, and promptly traded to Tampa for cash. These aren't transactions that scream "valued commodity."

Yet, here we are. Six months after being cast aside by the Mets, d'Arnaud has secured a $16 million payday. His contract is noteworthy because it is basically the same one a much more accomplished Jason Castro signed with the Twins back in 2017, minus one year.

Castro, now back on the open market, is another from the mid-tier group with d'Arnaud, seemingly not in a position of leverage. He's 32, coming off an unspectacular campaign following a lost one. But then again, he's a good defender, and a veteran with a strong rep. If the early deals are any indication, Castro's probably going to require more than the one-year, $6 million commitment we guessed in the Handbook.

Download attachment: Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 7.49.42 PM.png
(From the Offseason Handbook. Get your copy.)

If early free agency action is indeed indicative of heightened demand at catcher, Castro could price himself out of the Twins' comfort zone. As a natural platoon fit with Mitch Garver, and a solid game caller familiar to the pitching staff, Castro is appealing as a reunion candidate – but only up to a certain point. There are many other interesting names on the market, including: Robinson Chirinos, Austin Romine, Stephen Vogt, Martin Maldonado, Yan Gomes, and Alex Avila.

Download attachment: Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 8.00.48 PM.png

The decision here bears more importance than your standard backup catcher pickup, because the Twins appear committed to a balanced timeshare. Dan Hayes of The Athletic wrote a story for the Handbook detailing the strategy behind Garver's limited usage this year, and it doesn't sound as though the team intends to change course. While I suspect we'll see more of Garver in 2020 as a first baseman or DH, with the 26th roster spot making it easier to carry three catchers, there are still going to be at least 70-80 starts up for grabs at catcher.

Willians Astudillo could take some of them. But he was sadly none too inspiring this year. The Twins have a real opportunity to upgrade what was already a stellar position player corps. If they feel Castro is the best available option, they can afford him, even in a seller's market. But is he?

The other key question at play is whether the Twins feel they're in need of a stopgap or a longer-term solution. Garver is under control for four more seasons, but the system is otherwise thin at the top levels. That is, until you get to Ryan Jeffers, who may be closer than we realize.

Added in the second round of the 2018 draft, Jeffers has raked since joining the pro ranks, with a .296/.383/.453 slash line in his first 167 games. By the end of his first full season, he'd already reached Double-A, posting an .856 OPS in 24 games there. Clearly, the 22-year-old can hit. But what really intrigues me is his defensive tool kit. Hayes noted in his Handbook article that "Jeffers is an outstanding pitch framer – some within the organization think he’s among the top 15 in pro ball right now." High praise.

If the Twins are especially high on Jeffers, they may prefer to avoid a multi-year deal in free agency. Would that rule out Castro? Possibly. The best path for the front office might be a high-dollar one-year contract to sew up the only clear gap in their 2020 roster with some short-term quality.

And if they want it to be one of their preferred options, they might need to claim him soon.

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#2 HrbieFan

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 09:24 PM

Any thoughts on who they will target Nick? You image of other catchers doesn't show well on mobile

#3 MN_ExPat

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 09:34 PM

I'm liking Avila if they don't bring back Castro.

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#4 goulik

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 10:09 PM

I’m afraid the Castro train has left the station and it ain’t coming back.

#5 mikelink45

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 10:35 PM

I know there is a lot written here but it's not an area of concern for me. Astudillo and Jeffers is fine. Get some pitchers.
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#6 DocBauer

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 10:42 PM

Personally, I think catcher has often been undervalued except for those guys who have good to elite bats. Everything from defense to just working with the staff and making everyone comfortable are skills that can't be measured by any 100% statistic.

Regardless if you are a fan of Castro or not, he is respected and carries a solid resume and is experienced. While not a great hitter, and prone to streaks, he is an "OK" hitter who takes professional AB and has double digit HR power. Those are all positives.

The negatives are age creeping up, his injury in 2018, and the fact he wasn't a full time starter in 2019. Is there someone out there who really believes he's worth a 2-3yr deal for another $8M or so?

I'd really like him back in a 2yr $12M deal. What he has done with the Twins when healthy, the arrangement he and Garver had last season and what it produced, his familiarity with the staff and team, I could be convinced to go an additional $1M per grudgingly. But I'd really like to think the 2 and $12 should/could get it done.

I am very optimistic about Jeffers and how much the Twins seem to like him. But IMO, half a season at AA doesn't get it done for me. Offense and defense, there is still growth to be made and a learning curve. I feel so much better with Castro on board for 2 more seasons with Austudillo as that 3rd option.

If the numbers just don't make sense, I'm interested in Stephen Vogt and Robinson Chirinos as experienced options on lower cost 1yr deal options.
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#7 High heat

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 11:03 PM

What has happened to Ben Rortvedt? Great defender and a left handed bat perfect back up catcher to Garver with La totuga as the 3rd.
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#8 Shaitan

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 11:38 PM

d'Arnaud is 31? It feels like he was a "prospect" so recently. The mind is odd. On the contrary, I would have guessed Bumgarner is 35.

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#9 Shaitan

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Posted 25 November 2019 - 11:40 PM

While a .220-hitting, glove-first classic back-up catcher is the least sexy signing the Twins could make, I think it makes the most sense. Get a real MLB back-up of that caliber (not a AAAA-type journeyman) on a one-year deal. Let the minor leagues that others have mentioned develop and push for that spot.

 

There's always some kind of market for a savvy vet catcher. Even Bobby Wilson was traded.

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#10 Captain Torii

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 07:43 AM

Castro or Avila, hopefully we can get a lefty backup to Garver. 

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#11 rdehring

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 08:23 AM

 

What has happened to Ben Rortvedt? Great defender and a left handed bat perfect back up catcher to Garver with La totuga as the 3rd.

Interesting question, High heat.This isn't the first time Nick has included Jeffers in his short term projections for the position without mentioning Rortvedt. 

 

Won't speak for him as I don't know why he has that opinion.Although I am warming in my opinion of Jeffers, I maintain that Rortvedt is an equal, if not slightly better prospect.I base that on the progress he has made since signing out of high school and the fact that he got the AA promotion before Jeffers when it was time to move one of them up last summer.I also see Rortvedt as taking a big step forward with his bat last summer before his injury derailed his season.

 

On a related question.If/when MLB goes to the robo umpire for balls and strikes, pitch framing will become a non issue for catchers.What will that change do to the position insofar as valuing what a good catcher is? 

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#12 birdwatcher

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 09:09 AM

Bringing Castro back would seem to be a good idea to me, even at 2/$12M. Turtle as injury insurance for 2020.

 

Castro could be pushed out in mid-2021 for an emerging Jeffers, or a surging Rortvedt. 

 

Interesting to me: FanGraphs appears to have "overlooked" Rortvedt. Last time I looked, I don't believe he even made the top 50 cut on their list and was maybe a 35+ FV prospect in their eyes. In contrast, Jeffers was at #7 on their list, so anything but overlooked!

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#13 Nick Nelson

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 09:40 AM

 

What has happened to Ben Rortvedt? Great defender and a left handed bat perfect back up catcher to Garver with La totuga as the 3rd.

I like Rortvedt! Very nice prospect. I just think he's rawer and further away than Jeffers. If Jeffers is truly as special with pitch-framing as suggested, and his bat keeps rolling, he could be up by midseason. Rortvedt's ETA imo is 2021 or later. 

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#14 rdehring

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 09:57 AM

 

I like Rortvedt! Very nice prospect. I just think he's rawer and further away than Jeffers. If Jeffers is truly as special with pitch-framing as suggested, and his bat keeps rolling, he could be up by midseason. Rortvedt's ETA imo is 2021 or later. 

Thanks, Nick.Will agree that it would be surprising for Rortvedt to make it to the Twins in 2020. 

 

What I find equally surprising is all the talk about Jeffers defense.If I recall, when he was drafted he was considered a very good bat with a lot of questions about his defense.Has his defense improved that much?Were the writers wrong when he was drafted?Or is it all because of reports about his pitch framing? 

 

There is so much more to being a good catcher than pitch framing, which seems to be all people talk about of late when discussing catchers.

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#15 LA VIkes Fan

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 10:37 AM

I like Castro, but if we can't get him how about Martin Maldonado? Excellent defensively, controls the running game, pitchers love him. Of course, he's not much of a hitter - .671 OPS last year, .644 lifetime - and he hits right handed so he's not perfect. Still, seems like a good option for the next year or two while Jeffers and Rortvedt develop in the minors. Astudillo can be the 3rd C/utlity 26th man or the C/Util guy on the AA shuttle to fill the 3rd spot for that same period. He should NOT be a guy who gets 300 ABs behind the plate on a contending team.


#16 Nick Nelson

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 01:48 PM

 

Any thoughts on who they will target Nick? You image of other catchers doesn't show well on mobile

It's just a page from the Offseason Handbook. You can download it and get the whole thing in high-res, mobile-friendly format :)

 

To answer your question, I lean toward Castro or Avila. Vogt is a sneaky option because his LH pop and versatility would be useful in a three-catcher scenario.


#17 Nick Nelson

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 01:52 PM

 

What I find equally surprising is all the talk about Jeffers defense.If I recall, when he was drafted he was considered a very good bat with a lot of questions about his defense.Has his defense improved that much?Were the writers wrong when he was drafted?Or is it all because of reports about his pitch framing? 

I heard much the same but Jeffers appears to be impressing people on the defensive side. Hayes also mentioned in his Handbook story that he has developed a strong rep as a game caller. I will note, for what it's worth, that Jeffers has not thus far shown a strong ability to throw out base stealers in the minors. (26% CS rate, compared to 43% for Rortvedt.)

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#18 Riverbrian

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 02:13 PM

WIth Astudillo... I don't have any deal breaking defensive concerns. I'm not going to claim he's a master pitch framer or expert when it comes to handling the pitching staff but I will say that I didn't see anything that suggests that he costs the Twins from a defensive standpoint behind the plate either. 

 

When it comes to offense... I'll say it again. If Astudillo can exhibit plate discipline and this is just a matter of finding that specific light switch... His value would rise quickly and beyond what many of us imagine it could be because his offense would be so far above what typical catchers produce. 

 

I'm normally the guy who encourages multiple position ability. In the case of Astudillo... I think they should focus on catcher almost exclusively because catcher value is so inflated. Work on his defense at the catcher position extensively and get him to stop swinging at crap because he has clearly demonstrated that he can make consistent contact... therefore just try to eliminate the contact that he shouldn't be making contact with.  

 

The end result could be a .300 hitting catcher, increased OBP with walks added to the equation, double digit dingers and decent while not elite defense.

 

If you take that profile and compare it to the profiles of other typical catchers around the league. He would rise to near the top of the pile rather quickly. You have a player who can help you win games while on the roster and a player who could also bring back a big return should you trade him. 

 

Just look at the contract Grandal signed, look at the trade package Realmuto brought to the Marlins. No I'm not saying that Astudillo will become Grandal or Realmuto but I am saying that Catcher Value is inflated due to position scarcity over pay. 

 

Catcher... Don't overpay for them... Grow your own and let other teams over pay you for them. 

 

 

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#19 rdehring

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 04:10 PM

 

I heard much the same but Jeffers appears to be impressing people on the defensive side. Hayes also mentioned in his Handbook story that he has developed a strong rep as a game caller. I will note, for what it's worth, that Jeffers has not thus far shown a strong ability to throw out base stealers in the minors. (26% CS rate, compared to 43% for Rortvedt.)

Maybe Jeffers put in the same work that Garver did to get much better behind the plate. 

 

I recall mention of Rortvedt's arm several times this year.When the robo umps are on the job, maybe shutting down a running game will become the in thing for catchers.But if they keep this juiced ball, who is running...certainly not the Twins.


#20 rdehring

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Posted 26 November 2019 - 04:14 PM

 

WIth Astudillo... I don't have any deal breaking defensive concerns. I'm not going to claim he's a master pitch framer or expert when it comes to handling the pitching staff but I will say that I didn't see anything that suggests that he costs the Twins from a defensive standpoint behind the plate either. 

 

When it comes to offense... I'll say it again. If Astudillo can exhibit plate discipline and this is just a matter of finding that specific light switch... His value would rise quickly and beyond what many of us imagine it could be because his offense would be so far above what typical catchers produce. 

 

I'm normally the guy who encourages multiple position ability. In the case of Astudillo... I think they should focus on catcher almost exclusively because catcher value is so inflated. Work on his defense at the catcher position extensively and get him to stop swinging at crap because he has clearly demonstrated that he can make consistent contact... therefore just try to eliminate the contact that he shouldn't be making contact with.  

 

The end result could be a .300 hitting catcher, increased OBP with walks added to the equation, double digit dingers and decent while not elite defense.

 

If you take that profile and compare it to the profiles of other typical catchers around the league. He would rise to near the top of the pile rather quickly. You have a player who can help you win games while on the roster and a player who could also bring back a big return should you trade him. 

 

Just look at the contract Grandal signed, look at the trade package Realmuto brought to the Marlins. No I'm not saying that Astudillo will become Grandal or Realmuto but I am saying that Catcher Value is inflated due to position scarcity over pay. 

 

Catcher... Don't overpay for them... Grow your own and let other teams over pay you for them. 

 

You may have uncovered their plan, Riverbrian.Garver starts and plays around 100 games.Astudillo focuses on catcher and plays the other 62.They just signed a AAAA type vet for Rochester to go with Telis, who was there last year.That's their depth for the first half of the season.That is followed by two very good prospects who should be pushing to be in Rochester by mid-season, if not sooner.That plan works for me.

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