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Dodgers: An Option at Catcher

JIM DAVIS/BOSTON GLOBE STAFF

Almost every fan knows that catcher is the most glaring need on the Dodgers roster. There have been non-stop rumors connecting the Dodgers to almost every catcher available.

Players like J.T. Realmuto or Francisco Cervelli would be a nice upgrade for the team but they also come with significant acquisition costs. The Marlins originally asked the Dodgers for a package headlined by Cody Bellinger and more. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports is reporting that the Dodgers would consider trading top prospects Keibert Ruiz or Will Smith and Dustin May but the Marlins want significantly more. Realmuto is a great player, but for only 2 years of him, that’s a large price to pay. The reported cost for 1 year of Cervelli includes Ross Stripling, who has 4 years of team control and was just named to his first all-star game last season.

The free agent catcher market is incredibly weak. Unless Yasmani Grandal is willing to return on a 1 year deal, there isn’t a player available who would help the team much. The Dodgers also have Ruiz and Smith close to making their debuts. Smith should be called up sometime in 2019 and Ruiz should debut in 2020. Both of them have incredibly high potential, it’s just a matter of time until they’re making an impact for the team.

So What Should They Do?

Dave Roberts told Alanna Rizzo what kind of catcher the Dodgers want in an interview on SportsNet LA.

“A guy that’s a team guy, a hard worker, who can receive well,” Roberts said. “A left-handed bat, a guy that can probably hit right-handers. Or a right-hander that can hit right-handed pitchers makes sense for us. But just someone who fits good on the team. Austin [Barnes] is going to get a lot of playing time, that’s our goal, but someone who can complement him.”

There is a player who could be a perfect fit in a platoon with Barnes. Former top prospect Blake Swihart of the Boston Red Sox. Swihart checks a lot of boxes for what the team is looking for and complements Barnes well.

Offense

The Dodgers want a catcher who can hit right-handed pitching to pair with Austin Barnes. Swihart, a switch-hitter, can be that player. Look at how well they complement each other.

Player (2018 stats) AVG vs RHP AVG vs LHP OBP vs RHP OBP vs LHP SLG vs RHP SLG vs LHP wRC+ vs RHP wRC+ vs LHP
Austin Barnes .151 .246 .298 .353 .186 .368 48 101
Blake Swihart .275 .131 .336 .172 .412 .148 101 -21
Platoon (Barnes vs LHP, Swihart vs RHP) .275 .246 .336 .353 .412 .368 101 101

The Dodgers are certainly no strangers to platooning. Using them in a platoon would provide the Dodgers with an above average offensive combo. And at only 26 years old, Swihart is still a young player. There is a chance he can regain some of his talent that made him a top prospect in baseball just a few seasons ago.

Defense

Blake Swihart is a very athletic and versatile player. The Dodgers have shown an affinity for those types of catchers since Friedman took over. He was the 9th fastest catcher in baseball with a 27.1 feet per second, according to Statcast. Barnes was 7th at 27.4 ft/sec. He  also has the versatility to play at almost any position on the field. The Red Sox used hit at catcher for 154 innings, first base for 56 innings, second base for 2 innings, third base for 11 innings, left field for 41 innings, and right field for 84 innings. That’s not a large sample at any position but he has the ability to fill in where he’s needed.

Swihart is also an above average pitch framer. He had 0.7 framing runs which put him as the 38th ranked catcher. What’s significant about that is framing runs is a volume based stat and he was 76th in total chances with 1,209. To put it into perspective, last season Grandal had 6,851 chances (15.7 framing runs) and Barnes had 2,837 (8.3 framing runs). With more chances, Swihart would likely rank in the top 20 catchers.

He is also much better at catching base stealers than Barnes is. Swihart’s average pop time of 1.97 seconds is above average and his arm is the 9th strongest for catchers, with an average of 85.7 mph on his throws. For comparison, Barnes was at the bottom of the league in pop time and arm strength at 2.11 seconds and 75.6 mph.

Potential Cost

Acquiring Swihart shouldn’t cost the Dodgers too much. He has fallen out of favor in Boston and seems like a prime change-of-scenery rebound player. They could probably get him for a reliever like Josh Fields or a mid-level prospect.

If he doesn’t work out, the team has Smith almost ready to start at the major league level. The Dodgers shouldn’t be spending a ton or trading a lot for a catcher who will be overtaken by 1 of the 2 top prospects sooner than later. Swihart would be a fantastic choice, at a cost the team could live with, to pair with Austin Barnes for 2019.

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Written by Blake Williams

I graduated with an Associate's Degree in Journalism from Los Angeles Pierce College and now I'm working towards my Bachelor's at Cal State University, Northridge. I'm currently the managing editor for the Roundup News and a writer for Dodgers Nation. Around the age of 12, I fell in love with baseball and in high school, I realized my best path to working in baseball was as a writer, so that's the path I followed. I also like to bring an analytics viewpoint to my work and I'm always willing to help someone understand them since so many people have done the same for me. Thanks for reading!

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  1. I think Swihart would be a good acquisition if Bosox will take a reasonable return. My guess, it would take a package like Josh Sborz and Conner Wong. Two other possibilities to consider, Luke Maile (Bluejays) and Michael Perez (Rays). Maile has framing and blocking stats comparable to Austin Barnes with a better arm and hit RH pitching OK last season. Bluejays are loaded with catching and might take Andrew Toles for Maile. Perez is considered a very good defensive catcher with a plus arm and hits LH; perhaps Ed Rios would net Perez. Acquiring any of these catchers would not preclude a trade for Realmuto as Dodgers could flip that catcher in the trade, or keep that catcher and send Barnes back to Miami.

    • A Dodgers’ trade with the Marlins still makes the most sense though both teams need to be reasonable. The Dodgers aren’t including switch-hitting, 20-year-old Keibert Ruiz to get two years of J.T. Realmuto. And the idea that Cody Bellinger would be available is laughable. The Dodgers need to move two outfielders and two starting pitchers and fill that catching position. The Marlins aren’t going to take the two outfielders and two pitchers the Dodgers want to move. Kemp makes $21.5M, Puig is projected to make $11M+ in arbitration and there’s no way his former manager Don Mattingly is going to welcome him to SoFlo. He drove Maddingly crazy when Donnie Baseball was the Dodgers’ manager. Rich Hill will make $16M and Alex Wood is projected to make $9M in arbitration. A more likely scenario is outfielder Joc Pederson and catcher Will Smith being the centerpiece of the trade with Top 10 pitching prospects other than Justin May being included (Dennis Santana or Mitchell White). Pederson has hit 25 HRs in three of his four MLB seasons, he’s a year younger than Realmuto and like J.T., has two years of team control with arbitration. Their 2018 salaries were very similar ($2.6 M for Pederson, $2.9 for Realmuto). Florida needs outfielders and they don’t have anyone on the team who hit 25 HRs in 2018 since they traded Stanton, Yelich and Ozuna last year. My guess is final deal will be Pederson, Will Smith and Ross Stripling (under team control for a while) for J.T. Realmuto who would be expected to bridge the Dodgers’ catching position until Keibert Ruiz is ready.

      • If I am the Marlins I turn down the offer of an OF’er who must be platooned (Pederson), a catching prospect (Smith), and a pitcher who could not even make the post season roster (Stripling). I know I am not getting Bellinger and likely not Dustin May, but I will accept Alex Verdugo, Julio Urias, and Will Smith.

  2. I think the Dodgers missed the boat on Wilson Ramos for the one year plug. The Marlins also demanded too much from the Mets for Realmuto. They’ll end up losing him completely to free agency unless they get realistic. Maybe trying to resign Grandal is the best bet. Swihart was never mentioned til now. Who’s next to dust off from the shelves, Russel Martin, A.J. Ellis? If they get a second baseman who can hit his weight they could absorb a Barnes and a lesser than Realmuto in the lineup Who knows at this point-perhaps Barnes can revert back to his 2017 form or Smith might n spring training show he is ready

    • According to published report the Dodgers approached Ramos and his agent about possibility of a one year deal and were told no. No on Grandal, that ship has sailed.

      • Concur, SoCal on Grandal’s ship having been sailed a while ago. Recall he was literally booed off the field and when it mattered the most, he was replaced by Barnes during the last 2 PS. No way I see Granny taking a 1 year deal and I don’t believe he would want to come back anyway.

      • Yes, in that case where Swihart was obtained. I see that as a workable possibility. Dodgers, as I understand it are not overly thrilled with Barne’s offensive regression in 2018, but given more playing time , he may improve on that. Also, as the off season gets later and later, I also see the Marlins unable to deal Realmuto due to their demands for a return of players. Marlins may find Realmuto stays as a result maybe at least until July deadline, where by then there is that much less of a team control of him. Like you mentioned before I would like to see Dodgers get Realmuto but not at the expense of what the Marlins are asking in return.

  3. Just bring back A. J. Ellis. He won’t cost much and will be a great teammate. Might even play a player/coach role. They’ll be playing Barnes alot and will bring the kids up later in the year anyways.

  4. It typically takes several years for young catchers to hit well in the bigs-even the best of catching prospects. It’s because Mgt. Want them to focus on Defense first. Would rather trade for a proven commodity like JT -if price comes down some- and let the kids take more time to develop.

  5. Hi Blake,

    Good article. One thing. The use of “compliment” means praising someone. These two catchers complement one another.

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