Dodgers: Analyzing Catcher Options for 2019

The Winter Meetings of 2018 have passed and the Dodgers still haven’t addressed the need for another catcher. With the likely departure of starter Yasmani Grandal as a free agent, there is big void to fill. Austin Barnes is the only catcher on the 40 man roster that is almost guaranteed a spot on Dodgers roster in 2019. Given Barnes’ had an awful 2018 on the offensive side, the Dodgers probably should be looking for a new starting catcher.

I ran a poll for some preferences from Twitter:

Below is a 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.

Player Team Age Bat WAR HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG
J.T. Realmuto Marlins 28 R 4.8 21 74 .277/.340/.484
Tucker Barnhart Reds 28 S 1.1 10 46 .248/.328/.372
Francisco Cervelli Pirates 33 R 3.3 12 57 .259/.378/.431
A.J. Ellis Padres 38 R 0.8 1 15 .272/.378/.344
Nick Hundley Giants 35 R 0.8 10 31 .241/.298/.408
Jonathan Lucroy A’s 32 R 0.6 4 51 .241/.291/.325
Martin Maldonado Astros 32 R 0.9 9 44 .225/.276/.351
Yasmani Grandal Dodgers 30 S 3.6 24 68 .241/.349/.466
Austin Barnes Dodgers 29 R 0.3 4 14 .205/.329/.290
Kyle Farmer AAA 28 R N/A 7 36 .288/.333/.451
Rocky Gale AAA 31 R N/A 4 34 .281/.305/.383
Keibert Ruiz AA 20 S N/A 12 47 .268/.328/.401
Will Smith AA 24 R N/A 19 53 .264/.358/.532

Top Choice

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. 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

Other Starting Candidates

Tucker Barnhart – Reds

Barnhart is a switch-hitter who has been a solid player for the Reds. The gave him a 4 year/$16M contract which is a very affordable contract for the Dodgers as they wouldn’t have to shuffle too much salary. He is elite at keeping pitches from being passed balls or wild pitches. His numbers at the plate aren’t very special his home and road splits are not encouraging. Still, he’s a better option to start than the 2018 version of Austin Barnes.

Strengths: handling balls in the dirt, throws well, durable

Weaknesses: home/road splits, pitch framing

Francisco Cervelli

Cervelli is probably the next guy, after Realmuto, that I’d want. He 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.

Strengths: some pop, solid defensive player

Weaknesses: only one full healthy season, pitch framing slipping

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Other Candidates

A.J. Ellis – Padres

The 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.

Strengths: good game caller, hits lefty pitching

Weaknesses: pitch framing, part timer only

Jonathan Lucroy – A’s

Less than 3 years ago he was one of the top catchers in baseball. He was excellent on offense and defense.  It is a mystery why he’s become mediocre. He’s an interesting option and was the full-time catcher for a very good A’s team. He would be a bounce back candidate.

Strengths: durable, used to be excellent and only 32

Weaknesses: big drop offs all around

Nick Hundley – Giants

I have him on the list only because he popped up in some rumors. His scuffle with Yasiel Puig would make him someone that makes it, at the least, interesting. 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

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.

Strengths: a little pop, controls running game

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

Doubtful But You Never Know

Yasmani Grandal – Dodgers

Jul 31, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal (9) hits a home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the sixth inning at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

I am including Grandal because he is a good player and the Dodgers should keep him in mind. 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 walked

Weaknesses: yips catching the ball, struggles with hitting lefties

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

Kyle Farmer

I’m adding Farmer to explain why he actually isn’t an option other than as an emergency catcher. Although he spent a lot of time in AAA he only caught in 29 games. Rocky Gale got most of the repetitions. When he was with the Dodgers he only caught one inning in an emergency. Personally, I hope he can sway the Dodgers to give him more behind the plate in Spring Training. He is one of the best people in the Dodger organization.

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 is ready but it looks like their future with the Dodgers could even begin in 2019. 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.

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.

Player vs LHP vs RHP Home Road
J.T. Realmuto .204/.271/.380 .298/.360/.515 .269/.329/.444 .283/.350/.520
Tucker Barnhart .239/.313/.371 .239/.313/.371 .291/.386/.470 .204/.266/.274
Francisco Cervelli .244/.388/.415 .264/.375/.811 .236/.373/.376 .281/.384/.485
A.J. Ellis .294/.395/.368 .253/.364/.325 .250/.365/.313 .296/.393/.380
Nick Hundley .280/.320/.508 .213/.283/.335 .241/.288/.445 .241/.308/.372
Jonathan Lucroy .236/.294/.366 .243/.290/.308 .220/.264/.290 .260/.316/.358
Martin Maldonado .233/.295/.353 .222/.267/.350 .221/.274/.293 .229/.278/.406
Yasmani Grandal .206/.344/.383 .252/.351/.492 .251/.371/.464 .232/.330/.468
Austin Barnes .246/.353/.368 .151/.298/.186 .235/.336/.316 .176/.323/.265
Kyle Farmer .282/.333/.494 .291/.333/.433 .301/.359/.434 .276/.308/.469
Rocky Gale .299/.313/.416 .275/.303/.372 .304/.324/.440 .252/.281/.307
Keibert Ruiz .238/.304/.333 .276/.334/.420 .286/.357/.480 .252/.301/.332
Will Smith .258/.310/.500 .266/.373/.543 .311/.388/.689 .215/.329/.369

Selected Defensive Statistics

Player Innings SB CS PB WP FR FRAA
J.T. Realmuto 951.0 34 21 8 34 -0.4 4.3
Tucker Barnhart 991.0 54 17 4 20 -11.5 -10.3
Francisco Cervelli 793.2 36 23 8 50 -5.8 -4.0
A.J. Ellis 370.0 30 13 3 16 -9.3 -8.9
Nick Hundley 642.0 48 13 6 25 -13.2 -14.0
Jonathan Lucroy 1066.1 72 31 10 63 -3.7 -9.7
Martin Maldonado 967.2 18 17 13 53 5.9 3.1
Yasmani Grandal 1037.1 52 20 9 31 15.7 17.7
Austin Barnes 434.2 18 5 1 8 8.3 10.1

Credits and Abbreviations


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

Already, candidates like Wilson Ramos and Yan Gomes are no longer available. 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 they can’t get Realmuto, then I’d like to see either Grandal or Cervelli as the starting catcher in 2019.

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  1. Dodgers do an excellent job of keeping its “cards close to the vest” so I think there are others being considered. The Bluejays’ Luke Maile has defensive stats very similar to those of Austin Barnes and he was about ML average with the bat for catchers. Michael Perez of the Rays is a highly regarded defensive catcher who hits LH. Others?Twins’ Jason Castro (torn meniscus last May cost him rest of the season) and free agent Caleb Joseph was a top pitch framer and blocker in 2017.

    • Nice work socalbum. I never wven heard of those catchers. You’ve done your homework! And you’re completely right, no one really has any idea what Freidman is planning. None of the “rumors” ate based on comments from the front office.

      • Another option, Dodgers trade Kemp to Toronto for Russell Martin to back up Barnes. Kemp and Martin make close to the same salary in 2019, but Kemp has a huge advantage offensively so Toronto would have to add a prospect and/or pay some of Martins’ salary. Many options other than Realmuto (who I like very much, but not at the cost in players being mentioned in rumors).

  2. Having given this matter some prolonged thought, I must say that either Grandal will wind up back with us, or the Dodgers will go after Cervalli of the Pirates. Though we soured on Grandal for a variety of reasons, he is still a quality backstop. And at 30, he is young enough to cash in again if he accepts a two year deal. In two years, Ruiz, Wong, etc will have matured and we can go from there. Bellinger will not be traded!!!!!

    • BLUE LOU!!!!!!!!! I was just about to depart before I saw your post here and Dodgers would only offer Granny a 1 year deal, if that. Remember he was basically booed off the field here so he may not be ready or want to return, who knows…. Teams out there i am sure are looking at his PS performances in these past 2 years. But actually he lost the starting job at these junctures anyway to Barnes. But for 2019, Barnes can back up because his offense wasn’t there last year and Dodgers may not be ready to just settle for him being the starting catcher in 2019 just yet.

      • Grundle is a bum. He is the all or nothing specialist and for too long of stretches it’s nothing. I’m tired of that kind of hitter in the middle of the lineup. Championship odds instantly increase by removing that style from the lineup, but he’s Not the only one. There’s some swamp drainage that needs to be done

      • Tim, I heard just this AM that the Angels had interest in Grandal. In any event I cannot imagine Granny would want to come back here for just a 1 year deal for one, and for two, the fans basically booed him off the field. I heard in one game how fans were actually chanting for Barnes to be in there instead….