We are about two months away from the off-season officially starting and it is time to become familiar with the current group of players projected to be available for the Mariners via free agency.
We will start our journey behind the plate and look at those catchers who will be available to the Mariners, and every other team, to acquire for cold, hard cash. Of course, more catchers will become available from non-tendered veterans, DFA’s, and waivers, but the players we are discussing today are likely going to be available.
The biggest name available this winter is likely Yasmani Grandal, the former Dodgers and current Brewers catcher, who is still one of the best backstops in the game. He does have a $16 million mutual option with a $2.5 million buyout, so a return to Milwaukee isn’t out of the discussion.
Grandal is having a very good year, slashing .249/.378/.461 with 22 home runs in 130 games. Grandal is still a premier defensive player at the position too. He is the prize of this class, but there are several other options available.
Jason Castro is having a nice year as a part-time player. He is a premier pitch framer, a solid bat for the position, is just 32-years-old, and hits left-handed, a nice perk for a backup catcher. If a team is looking for a defense-first backup, Martin Maldanado makes sense as well.
Perhaps nobody helped their stock more this season than 31-year-old Travis d’Arnaud, currently with the TB Rays. d’Arnaud was a former top prospect who floundered in the big leagues for the first 5 years of his career. But he has found a home in Tampa and is their version of Tom Murphy.
Veterans like Yan Gomes, Tyler Flowers, and Welington Castillo, all have team options to navigate before they hit free agency. And the aging, but still solid, veteran group includes Brian McCann, Robinson Chirinos, Jonathan Lucroy, and Matt Wieters (you can find the whole list here).
Overall, this free-agent class is about average. There are one or two starting catchers, a handful of solid part-time players, and then a lot of backups. But perhaps most importantly, how does this impact the Mariners this off-season?
After all, catcher is one of the current strengths of the big league club and there is decent depth in the minor leagues. So how does any of this matter to Seattle? It affects the trade market for Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy.
We wrote about which one is the most tradeable here, but if one of them is moved, their value is directly linked to the group of players mentioned above. Murphy will be cheaper monetarily than any of the names listed above. He isn’t arbitration-eligible until after next season. He is probably closer to the part-time options than the everyday guys at the top, he may be right in the middle of those two groups.
Narvaez likely trails just Grandal in the offensive category, although the defensive gap is massive. If we power ranked these options, both Murphy and Narvaez would probably be in the Top 5. But there are a lot of factors to consider. For example, most teams would rather give up $5 million for a Maldanado type than trade a meaningful prospect for Narvaez or Murphy.
Or what if a team already has an offense-first catcher? They probably aren’t going to be that interested in Narvaez unless they have an open spot at DH or 1B. Things change quickly in the winter so anything can happen.
But the catcher position is tough to peg. If pressed, I’d say the current market favors the Mariners pursuits to trade one of their catchers. But the odds are probably as close to 50-50 as you can get. Only time will tell.