Just one week ago today was Evan White Day, when we celebrated the Mariners handing out an unprecedented contract to their unique first baseman, only to be rudely interrupted partway through by Omar Narvaez trade rumors. The two are actually somewhat connected; locking down White at first frees up Austin Nola to be the backup catcher, making either Narváez or Tom Murphy expendable.
The catcher market remains the warmest part of the hot stove, and even in the week since the last article published (a holiday week, even!), enough things have shifted to call for an update. The AL West continues to be the catcher-neediest division with the exception of the A’s, but also one of the more difficult wherein to execute a trade. Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Colorado are still attractive destinations as teams poised to contend who could use a slugging catcher, although all are limited by the lack of a DH spot, meaning they’d have to hold their noses through Narváez’s subpar defense.
Elsewhere, however, things have started happening quickly. with one of the potential landing spots we identified for Narváez last week coming off the board as Washington re-signed Yan Gomes to a two-year, $10M deal. However, that also means that one of the more attractive free agent catchers is off the board, further depleting an already thin pool and potentially driving up the bat-first Narváez’s value despite his defensive warts. The White Sox also continued to signal they are Very Seriously Going For It this year by locking James McCann down to a one-year deal, giving them a catching tandem that was worth 7.5 fWAR last season. Tampa Bay also addressed their catching situation recently, re-upping Mike Zunino on a one-year, $4.5M deal. The Rays are hoping well-regarded hitting coach Chad Mottola can help Zunino rise above a dreadful first season in Tampa Bay where he hit .165, a tune longtime Mariners fans will certainly find familiar. Backing up Zunino is rookie Michael Perez, who shows promise but was hurt last year and has fewer than 150 MLB plate appearances.
Another AL East team also made a move impacting their catching situation:
The #RedSox today traded catcher Sandy León to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for minor league RHP Adenys Bautista.
Boston’s 40-man roster is now at 37.
— Red Sox (@RedSox) December 2, 2019
The Red Sox have been trying to churn the back end of their roster this off-season, cutting payroll in any ways they can (León was set to make $2.8M). However, they’re now without a backup catcher, unless they want to turn to Jhon Nunez (120 wRC+ at Double-A this past season). While Boston’s bottom-tier farm system might not support a Narváez trade, they should comfortably be able to afford Tom Murphy, an inexpensive option who can provide plus defense and a little bit of pop. Tampa Bay, with its rich farm system, could afford whatever price the Mariners want for Narváez, but might not have at-bats to give him; they, too, could use Murphy as Zunino insurance (and no one understands the need for Zunino insurance more than Mariners fans). The AL East promises to be one of the most competitive in baseball next year, with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays all intent on competing, along with a push from the Blue Jays’ new dynasty (and the Orioles will…exist, theoretically). With such a narrow margin between teams, a small, inexpensive upgrade like improving the backup catcher position could pay big dividends over the course of the season.
The catching market remains the most dynamic throughout the early stages of the hot stove season. So far, trade rumors have centered around Narváez, but don’t be surprised if it’s Seattle’s other backstop who winds up getting moved.