As Jim pointed out on Thursday, the Chicago White Sox could use another catcher to pair with Omar Narvaez in 2017, preferably a good pitch framer that could help carry the load working with James Shields and Derek Holland. Looking at the remaining free agent catchers, boy, are the cupboards almost bare.
The best remaining catcher is Matt Wieters, and there isn’t a whole lot of hot stove smoke surrounding him. Current rumors have the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves as possible destinations for Wieters. Our comrades over at Talking Chop don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense for the Braves to be in the Wieters market. The Nationals have reportedly been waiting for the Scott Boras client to reduce the number of years before serious consideration. That’s not a whole lot of action for a four-time All-Star.
After Wieters, there is a pretty significant drop-off regarding talent. SSS commentator Holland23 asked the question about best possible remaining options. Beware, it’s not pretty, but options are available that were better than both Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila framing-wise.
Using Baseball Prospectus’ Framing Runs Above Average:
Josh Thole: R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher, Thole’s playing time was taken away late August when the Blue Jays traded for Dioner Navarro. While he posts good numbers in framing runs (14.4 since 2011), he had a horrible year offensively hitting .169/.254/.220. In his four years playing in the American League, Thole has slugged .248 over 473 plate appearances.
Hank Conger: Demoted to Triple-A in July, and then DFA’d in September to make room on the 40-man, Conger didn’t have a fun time with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016. He was paired with Chris Archer to start 2016 but was eventually phased out for his difficulty throwing out baserunners. He threw out just eight basestealers out of 43 attempts, which is actually far better than what Conger did with the Astros in 2015, when he threw out just one basestealer in 43 attempts (J.B. Shuck). Sure, he can frame a pitch, but I would hate to see Conger start behind the plate against the Kansas City Royals.
Geovany Soto: Left the White Sox in 2015 for a chance to be a starter in Anaheim. Soto spent a lot of time on the disabled list in 2016 as he suffered inflammation in both knees.
Chris Gimenez: DFA’d by the Texas Rangers in May, the Cleveland Indians picked up Gimenez to fill in for Roberto Perez, who suffered a broken thumb. When Perez recovered, Yan Gomes went on the 60-day disabled list, so Gimenez was able to stick for all of 2016. His -2.8 FRAA is the worst in his eight-year career, which was still a half-run better than Omar Narvaez (-3.3 in 2016). His familiarity facing White Sox pitching and his insight on Cleveland’s starters could be quite resourceful.
Ryan Hanigan: The Boston Red Sox declined Hanigan’s $3.5 million option this offseason, resulting in an $800,000 buyout. With two stints on the disabled list in 2016, injuries are a concern for the 36-year old. His -4.1 FRAA was the first time in his career it dipped below zero, so there might be a chance that he could return to being a positive pitch-framer. Just like Soto, it’s unclear how many games any team can count on from Hanigan.
Kurt Suzuki: No longer needed in Minnesota after the Twins signed Jason Castro (jerks), Suzuki could be an option for any team that believes he can be a useful bat off the bench. He had a very good first half of 2016 by hitting .294/.332/.447, but he followed that up with a poor second half, hitting .209/.261/.345. Suzuki has never been considered a good defensive catcher, but he’s better than Navarro.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia: He hit 12 home runs in 2016 and is better than Hank Conger throwing out baserunners (12-for-49 in 2016), but Salty is a shell of his former self.
Nick Hundley: If you want to see offense from your catchers, Hundley may be the best choice. He fared better hitting away from Coors Field in 2016 (.245/.309/.408 at home, .275/.331/.472 away), with almost an even split in games played (41 at Coors Field, 42 away). With back-to-back seasons hitting 10 homers and more than 20 doubles, Hundley should provide more pop than Narvaez. His defense, though, would be a major issue.
Chris Iannetta: His 2016 framing was almost an inverse of his 2015 season (2016: -14.9. 2015: 14.2). Like others on this list, he is coming off his worst career year regarding WARP, as he was worth -1.4 wins.
Dioner Navarro: Nope.
If the White Sox do decide to sign another catcher to pair with Narvaez, there will be some glaring flaws. Initially, I was for giving Conger a shot, but I’m intrigued what Gimenez could bring. This debate is what happens when you let Jason Castro sign with a divisional rival.