As the Mariners wrap up the 2018 season, we are shifting our focus to the off-season. Today, we start our shift by focusing on who could be available behind the dish this winter.
While nobody knows exactly which direction Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto intends to go this off-season, it appears likely the team will claim to be buyers once again. Even if they shock everybody and decide to sell, Seattle should be deeply involved in the catcher’s market this year.
The organization needs an infusion of catching depth, as the Mariners have been forced to rely on mediocre options like Chris Herrmann and David Frietas. This is largely due to the complete lack of homegrown catching options. With no prospects on the horizon, Dipoto will once again need to look outside the organization to find help.
Whether the Mariners will be looking for a true partner with Mike Zunino behind the plate or just a warm body to catch 30 games in 2019 remains to be seen. Despite his pitiful on-base and bat to ball skills, Zunino still has the pop and defensive prowess to be a solid option behind the plate.
Among catchers with 300 or more plate appearances, Zunino ranks in the middle of the pack in both fWAR and bWAR. The team could definitely improve, but it may not be as easy as everybody thinks.
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So with all that in mind, who might be available at the catcher position in 2019? Let’s take a look at some names.
Perhaps the “prize” of the 2018 free agent catcher class is Wilson Ramos. The one time National’s and Ray’s backstop is now in the midst of a playoff race in Philadelphia. An offense-first catcher, Ramos is hitting .313/.363/.514 in 380 PA’s this year. Like Zunino, Ramos has impressive pop, though is not the defensive wizard Zunino is.
However, Ramos is at least considered an okay defender behind the dish. Ramos is 31-years-old and will likely be the most expensive catcher this off-season.
Perhaps a bit less heralded, but every bit as good of a backstop is Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal. Not only is Grandal an excellent hitter, slashing .239/.345/.468 in 2018, he is also the premier pitch framer in the game.
Behind the dish, Grandal leads MLB with 13.3 RAA (runs allowed average) by pitch framing metrics. By comparison, Mike Zunino ranks 5th best with a 3.5 RAA (min. 5,000 pitch sample) in 2018.
Grandal will enter the 2019 season as a 30-year-old player, who is likely to challenge Ramos as the prize of the catching market.
While Grandal and Ramos represent the top tier of this group, there are numerous options that could make sense as a Zunino partner. Kurt Suzuki provides a solid bat with a .271/.331/.455 slash as a 35-year-old in Atlanta. Suzuki grades out as one of the worst framers in the game. That combined with his age may prevent Suzuki from getting what he is actually worth.
If the Mariners have defense on their mind, they can’t find much better value than Jeff Mathis who grades as an elite pitch framer but gives nothing with the bat. Martin Maldonado provides an excellent arm with an okay bat who earns high praise for his defense.
In addition, there are several veteran options who could make some sense, including A.J. Ellis, Matt Wieters, and Devin Messeraco. Two names who could join the catching parade this winter are Texas Rangers backstop Robinson Chirinos and Astros catcher Brian McCann, who both have club options that may be activated.
The free agent market will present several interesting options for the Mariners consideration this off-season(for a full list click here). Whether they choose to act on it is up to Jerry Dipoto. But one thing that seems agreeable is that if Seattle wants to truly compete in 2019, their current catcher situation cannot remain status quo.