In this series, we’ll analyze the remaining free agent catchers on the market. Yasmani Grandal’s contract prediction can be found in the following link: 2018-2019 Top 10 Free Agent Predictions and Analysis. The market for catchers includes a strong mix of defensive specialists and above average hitters, leaving teams with numerous options to explore to fill their needs. The catching position is consistently underpaid in free agency, giving teams the ability to fill a key position in their roster with cost effective options. With the increased importance on defensive metrics and framing ability for catchers, expect defensive minded catchers to do particularly well in this free agent market.
Wilson Ramos: If not for a gruesome knee injury to end his 2016 season, Ramos would have already signed a significant free agent contract. Despite the slow recovery from the knee injury, “el torito” (the bull) has come back to post a 121 OPS+ over the last two seasons. The biggest concern with Ramos is his health: he missed the first half of 2017 rehabbing the knee injury and missed time in 2018 with a hamstring strain. Put those concerns aside, and Ramos is an elite offensive threat: a 47.4% hard-hit percentage and 91.3 MPH average exit velocity both put him in among the top tier for offensive catchers and well above the major league average. He’s yet to play a game at first base in the major leagues; being restricted to strictly catching duties and the occasional DH opportunity will likely limit him to no more than 120 games in a season. The Angels make a ton of sense with a serious opening at catcher (Francisco Arcia is a fine option as a backup but by no means a sure thing as a starter) and their timeline to win with Mike Trout is approaching its final stages. A reunion with the Phillies seems unlikely given manager Gabe Kapler’s continuous public support and admiration for young catcher Jorge Alfaro. Expect his contract to include a team option to offset his injury potential and durability concerns, but Ramos should find no shortage of suitors this offseason.
Contract: 3 Years $48 Million ($16 million average annual value) and a $14 million club option for 2022 with a $2 million dollar buyout.
Team: Los Angeles Angels. In the mix: Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics, New York Mets.
Kurt Suzuki: Sharing the catching responsibilities with Tyler Flowers in Atlanta truly worked to Suzuki’s benefit. At the age of 35, one can only expect him to catch so many games per season, but when platooned, he becomes an extremely valuable asset to the right team. He doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard, but if there’s ever someone who’s bought into the fly ball revolution, it’s Suzuki. His average launch angle of 18.2 degrees in 2018 was second highest amongst catchers behind only Yan Gomes of the Indians. The downside is that he’s not exceptionally well at throwing out baserunners (2.08 seconds average pop time was third lowest amongst catchers), but he’s shown the ability to handle young pitching staffs in both Oakland and Atlanta. Tampa Bay is always in the market for cheap catchers in the market, and the Astros can’t be written off, especially if their pursuit of J.T. Realmuto comes to no avail. Given his defensive constraints, the New York Mets should seek other alternatives especially with a starting staff that is notorious for being slow to the plate.
Contract: 2 Years $11 Million ($5.5 million average annual value)
Team: Tampa Bay Rays. In the mix: Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics.
Martin Maldonado. Smile Martin, teams are starting to pay big bucks for defense. Rather than go through Maldonado’s elite defensive stats (which are plentiful), we will simply analyze as to why Maldonado will end up a New York Met. The Mets need a catcher to complement Travis d’Arnaud who simply can’t stay on the field despite a promising offensive profile. The Mets new leadership will prioritize defense and Maldonado’s profile fits well with the Mets starting staff who, as mentioned previously, has serious trouble holding the running game. His pop time of 1.97 seconds is above league average and would be a serious upgrade over the Mets current catching corps. He’ll never be a league average hitter (career OPS+ of 73), but he has shown the ability to run into a few balls here and there and above all, the ability to remain on the field over the course of a full year. His signing may not generate many headlines, but the Mets should expect a solid return on their investment in Martin Maldonado this offseason.
Contract: 2 Years $13 million ($6.5 million average annual value) with team option for 2021
Team: New York Mets. In the mix: Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies.