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Dodgers: Analyzing Catcher Options for 2019 – An Update

Dodgers
Oct 17, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes (15) hits an RBI single against the Milwaukee Brewers in the fifth inning in game five of the 2018 NLCS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

This is an update to my previous article about catching options from a few weeks ago. I will take a look at some new options and drop some original options. The Dodgers are still in the same situation of needing another catcher to either pair with Austin Barnes or be the full-time catcher. Thank you in advance to some commenters, Twitter followers and Dodgers Nation staff for many of the extra ideas.

Below is the updated list of candidates that have rumored about or ones that might be a good fit. Internal candidates within the Dodgers’ system are included. Something to note, some of the candidates have some poor defensive numbers. I wonder if the Dodger organization could help them.

In House Options

Austin Barnes

If Austin Barnes would have shown any life at the plate, this would be a much easier issue to address. He was a top 10 catcher in 2017 and looked to be the catcher for the near future. He did enter 2018 with some arm issues in Spring Training so I am hoping that the off-season helps bring him around again.

Strengths: pitch framing, blocks well, takes a walk

Weaknesses: hitting, doesn’t throw particularly well

Rocky Gale

Gale is nice organizational depth and would need a big Spring Training to earn playing time. If the Dodgers won’t give him a chance to play I hope they move him to another organization. I would like to see him on a major league roster.

Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith

Neither are ready, but it looks like their future with the Dodgers could begin as soon as this coming season. I wrote about the main catching prospects in the organization earlier last month. I doubt that their future potential will be factored into any of the decisions they make in 2019, but it does seem they are looking for mostly one year options.

Top Choices

J.T. Realmuto – Marlins

Realmuto has been the favored choice for many fans and it seems, also, for the Dodgers. There have been rumors about the Dodgers wanting Realmuto since the season ended. I wrote about some trade possibilities for him early in November and there have been further articles from Dodgers Nation about Realmuto and even about not wanting him. With the rumored demands from the Marlins, the likelihood of trading for Realmuto is getting smaller and smaller. By Wins Above Replacement (WAR) he was the best catcher in baseball (Grandal was 2nd).

Strengths: excellent athlete, continued improvement, throws out base stealers well

Weaknesses: pitch framing, hitting against left-handed pitching, Marlins demands

Yasmani Grandal – Dodgers

April 16, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal (9) celebrates after scoring a run in the fourth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I am including Yasmani Grandal because he is a good player and the Dodgers should keep him in mind. The further the off-season goes along the better the chance of Grandal coming back to the Dodgers. According to Jon Morosi:

“The Dodgers remain open to bringing back Grandal on a one-year contract, one source said Sunday evening”

If the market is weak for Grandal maybe he does come back for one year and go into free agency after 2019 with no Qualifying Offer attachments.

Strengths: pitch framing, power, gets walks

Weaknesses: yips catching the ball, struggles with hitting lefties, extreme streaks

Francisco Cervelli

Francisco Cervelli is still a legitimate starter and had a nice 2018 season with the Pirates. He used to be a very good pitch framer but those numbers have fallen off. All around, he’s solid and would be a good starter until either Barnes or some prospects take the job away. He becomes a free agent after the 2019 season. There have been some rumors involving Cervelli and the Dodgers that seem to come and go.

Strengths: some pop, solid defensive player

Weaknesses: only one full healthy season, pitch framing slipping

Younger Options

The following are some younger players (at least compared to others who might be available) and might be more difficult to acquire.

Luke Maile – Blue Jays

Maile is a player that endured an awful 2017 but bounced back to have a decent 2018. Tom Dakers from Blue Bird Banter has a great breakdown of Maile’s 2018 season. Dakers broke down the Blue Jays catchers and considers Maile a backup.

Strengths: defense, specifically looks to be a decent pitch framer

Weaknesses: doesn’t have a strong MLB history on offense

Michael Perez – Rays

Michael Perez was acquired by the Rays from the Diamondbacks in July of 2018 and was a nice surprise for them. Perez played well for them before getting hurt in late August and missing the last month of the season. Then, the Rays went out and traded for Mike Zunino so Perez could be available.

Strengths: youth with some upside, bats left

Weaknesses: limited experience and weak framing (small sample size)

Blake Swihart – Red Sox

Blake Williams from Dodgers Nation provided a great breakdown of Blake Swihart. He’s the third catcher with the Red Sox and seems to have fallen out of favor. He is a switch hitter who was a top prospect just a few years ago. The cost to trade for him should be minimal.

Strengths: potential, switch-hitter

Weaknesses: seems to have lost his way, a partial project

Old Friends

Russell Martin – Blue Jays

I still can’t stand how the Dodgers let Russell Martin go after 2010 over a small amount of money. That was Frank McCourt at his worst. Martin has gone on to have some excellent seasons with the Yankees and Pirates. However, it was smart to avoid giving him a big free agent contract at the age of 32 like the Blue Jays did. He’s been decent but is showing his age. Given that his contract counts as $16.4M towards the competitive balance tax calculations, there would need to be a lot of money coming with Martin for his age 36 season.

Strengths: pitch framing, draws walks

Weaknesses: trending downwards with the bat, big $

A.J. Ellis – Padres

This old friend had a decent season for the Padres in limited playing time. He’s a backup option so that would mean full-time play for Austin Barnes. He still hits lefties decent enough and plenty of fans would love to have him back but it is probably a long shot. He’s a free agent.

Strengths: good game caller, hits lefty pitching

Weaknesses: pitch framing, part timer only

Other Candidates

Nick Hundley – Giants

I have Hundley on the list only because he popped up in some rumors as a free agent. He does have some pop and had a .508 slugging percentage against left handers. His defensive numbers were not that good so I’m skeptical if he’d be much of a help.

Strengths: hits lefties well

Weaknesses: defensive numbers

Martin Maldonado – Astros

Martin Maldonado is an excellent thrower who helps control the running game. He used to keep his passed ball and wild pitches against down, but they’ve gone up quite a bit in the last two years. It might be that he was over worked. The last two seasons he played a lot more than previously. He is a free agent.

Strengths: a little pop, controls running game, history of good pitch framing

Weaknesses: big rise in balls getting away, doesn’t get on base much

Devin Mesoraco – Mets

Devin Mesoraco is a free agent after spending 2018 with the Reds and Mets. With the Mets he made a good impression when he was healthy. He has missed a lot of games since 2015 with injuries but he could be a guy to fill a backup role until the Dodgers believe Will Smith is ready.

Strengths: history of throwing well, some power

Weaknesses: poor pitch framing, injury history

Caleb Joseph – Orioles

The Orioles let Caleb Joseph become a free agent instead of offering him a contract after 2018. Based on his offensive numbers that made sense. He does have some defensive skills but is probably only worth a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Strengths: pitch framing history, throws well

Weaknesses: offense

Jason Castro – Twins

The Twins signed Jason Castro to a 3 year/$24.5M contract after the 2016 season which is over $8 for luxury tax calculations. He tore up a knee at the beginning of the 2018 season but seems to be on a path to be ready for Spring Training. Like Martin, the Twins would need to send some money.

Strengths: pitch framing history, throws well, bats left handed

Weaknesses: offense including some big whiff rates, big $

More Offense Details

The following table has their AVG/OBP/SLG slash lines for their overall numbers along with how they did verses lefties, righties and home and road  splits.

Selected Defensive Statistics

Credits and Abbreviations

Fangraphs

SB – Stolen bases against the catcher
CS – number of runners caught stealing
PB – number of passed balls against the catcher
WP – number of wild pitches thrown by the pitcher while catching

Baseball Prospectus

FR – number of runs saved by pitch framing (Framing Runs)
FRAA – total number of runs saved by factoring in framing, blocking and throwing along with other adjustments (Fielding Runs Above Average)

Final Thoughts

Slowly, candidates are being picked up. It looks like the Dodgers are trying to see if they can trade for J.T. Realmuto, leaving the other players listed as fallbacks. If the Marlins are really insisting on Cody Bellinger, that won’t happen. If they can’t get Realmuto, then I’d like to see either Grandal or Cervelli as the starting catcher in 2019.

The reality that FRG and myself discussed is that we are betting that it will be Austin Barnes as the starting catcher with someone like Maldonado or Mesoraco being signed to fill in until Will Smith is ready. It seems the easiest thing to do and, with Smith and Keibert Ruiz getting closer, it also might be the smartest and most cost effective path. Remember, Barnes was very good in 2017.

[button link=”https://www.dodgersnation.com/baseball-america-top-10-dodgers-prospects/2019/01/06/” type=”big” color=”red”] Baseball America: Top 10 Dodgers Prospects[/button]

Written by Tim Rogers

A fan of the Dodgers since 1973 since I got my first baseball cards while living in Long Beach. I came to San Diego for college and never left nor did I ever switch my Dodgers' allegiance. Some know me as the "sweater guy". #ProspectHugger

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  1. Terrific breakdown, thanks. Other than Realmuto; if Dodgers want a veteran then Russell Martin may be a good option. Still a quality defensive catcher who can play other positions (in an emergency), but owed $20MM — Jays would have to eat at least half that contract. Jason Castro is another veteran and if his knee is 100% then he would be a terrific complement to Barnes and $8MM is just slightly more than Grandal made in 2018. Younger guys (in preference order) Maile, Perez, and Swihart add value for more years and with Dodgers strong scouting they may have seen something that makes one of these guys the catching partner with Barnes. Perez and Swihart hitting LH is a plus.

  2. Thanks for the break down, I still say the Dodgers were kicking the tires on Realmoto as they have inexpensive Farm Help too close to coming up in Smith and Ruiz. I do not think the Dodgers have lost all of their faith in Barnes as they used him in the playoffs and he is great with calling, planning and defending during the game.

    I would love to see Aj Ellis back for a year and then using him as a roving Catching Instructor. He can help Kershaw reinvent himself or find better pitch sequencing.

    I think it is Barnes and I agree I would like to see Gales get a fair shot along with Smith to take the other catching slot and to push Barnes. I think they will at least bring in another catcher on a year deal.

    • Rocky Gale is like rooting for Rudy Ruettiger (movie “Rudy”) — pulling for the underdog, but his minor league stats are more indicative of a BP catcher and eventually a coach. Brooks Baseball summary of his ML at bats (135 pitches) – “a disastrously high likelihood to swing and miss” against fastballs, sliders, and breaking pitches.

      • Barnes has been an adequate to good hitter throughout his career except for last year. I do think the organization has faith in him to come back and he is a major league guy and is being challenged. I think he steps up this year. He is a gritty guy.

        I agree with Socalbum that hoping for Gales is like rooting for Rudy but stranger things have happened in baseball and guys changing their stances and working with a hitting instructor that clicks has helped CP3, Muncy and others so never say never. The new Dodger hitting guys have helped several players make huge turnarounds.

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