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Kicking the Can, Part 1: Catchers

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An early look at the effects of Rick Hahn’s pursuit of short-term solutions for the White Sox

American League Wild Card Game 3: Chicago White Sox v. Oakland Athletics
Zack Collins, who’s yet to get a fair look from the Sox, faces enormous pressure to perform in 2021.
Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Entering the 2018-19 offseason, it was conceded that the White Sox, in a year where they weren’t expected to be highly competitive, had holes at DH, right field (after Avisaíl García proved not worth entering arbitration with), and a shortage of starting pitchers.

While nobody can fault them for holding a casting call for a lot of prospects and fringe pickups, the utter failures of Daniel Palka, Ryan Cordell, Charlie Tilson, Nicky Delmonico, Dylan Covey, Manny Bañuelos, Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodón, and Carson Fulmer to lock down a roster spot left them in the same position for the 2019-20 offseason. And there, even short-term “solutions” like Jon Jay, Yonder Alonso, Odrisamer Despaigne, Ervin Santana, and Ross Detwiler couldn’t give them something to return to.

A year ago, the addition of Dallas Keuchel and the continued emergence of Lucas Giolito helped solidify the front of the rotation — but the face plant of Reynaldo López, lingering concerns about Cease, and Michael Kopech’s mercurial decision to sit out the season left them again needing starters to replace innings from the departure of Iván Nova. Again, their attempted solution (Gio González) failed to solve anything, while in-house options (Rodón, Cease, López, Jonathan Stiever, Dane Dunning) failed to lock down another spot. Meanwhile, right field was again a cesspool of horrors, where the already-mediocre Nomar Mazara posted by far the worst season of his career.

With the additions of Lance Lynn and Adam Eaton, there at least appears to be some sort of relief on the way for 2021, but the departure of James McCann leaves a gaping hole at backup catcher and even DH, where the performance bar somehow keeps getting lowered. And Lynn and Eaton are only one-year solutions, which just leaves Hahn in the position of having to spend another offseason with gaps to fill for to the same problems.

In this series, we’re going to examine the 2022 White Sox roster’s needs and, assuming no long-term additions are brought in during this remaining offseason, possible ways to address them next winter.

The 2020 White Sox succeeded in great part because they had the best catching tandem in all of baseball. And that’s not hyperbole; they had two starting quality catchers who were among the best at the position. With McCann on to greener pastures (in the monetary sense, anyhow), the White Sox look to be rolling with Zack Collins as their backup for 2021. While we can certainly hope for more development from Collins, let’s examine the options for 2022.

FREE AGENTS

Travis d’Arnaud

A former top prospect who was so highly-touted he was a part of two blockbuster trades (first for Roy Halladay, and later for R.A. Dickey), the latter in which he was the headliner in the return (ahead of Noah Syndergaard!). While d’Arnaud’s massive 2020 triple-slash of .321/.386/.533 is probably an outlier, he’s generally had a decent bat by catcher standards and, entering his age-33 season, is coming to a point in his career where backup duties might be warranted.

Yan Gomes

A generally uninspiring hitter, Gomes has proven a more-than-serviceable option behind the plate and occasionally runs into a good season with the bat. Being a part of Washington’s 2019 World Series run is certainly a feather in his cap.

Sandy Leon

One of the worst bats at the position (which is saying something), but a plus framer and defender. He’s the sort of guy who you don’t want to see any more than is necessary, but at least provides one plus skill as a part-time player who can fit into a budget.

Martin Maldonado

It seems like we’ve discussed Maldonado as a potential acquisition almost every offseason. Entering his age-35 season, Maldonado’s bat isn’t quite as bad as Leon’s, but is still pretty bad — but his framing has kept him employed through the years. Again, you could do worse off the bench.

Manny Pina

Basically Maldonado-lite. Similar bat, not as good behind the plate (but still good), and a year younger.

Kurt Suzuki

Well, if the White Sox didn’t want him this year for as little as he signed for, I can’t imagine they’ll want him with another year of mileage on his 38-year-old frame.

Others

Tucker Barnhardt, Roberto Perez, Buster Posey, Christian Vazquez, and Mike Zunino all have 2022 options in their contracts. Posey is the only one who seems absolutely unlikely to have his picked up, though I’m not sure he’d accept a backup role. Salvador Perez will be a free agent, but unlikely to leave the Royals or be a backup. I’ll not even discuss Welington Castillo as a possibility.

PROSPECTS

Zack Collins

The organization has done a great disservice to Collins. As far back as 2019 there were scuffling veteran players on the active roster who should have been sent packing to make room for Collins to assess his value for the future, but the White Sox never really gave him a long look. What little look he did get was very, very bad. Now he’s stuck in a position of potentially being a backup catcher and not getting enough regular playing time to develop any further in a year where they can’t afford to have him fail even on a part-time basis. Collins has very little time and opportunity to show the White Sox something, but he’s thus far shown zero aptitude in any aspect of the game at the major league level.

Seby Zavala

There was brief enthusiasm for Zavala when he showed unexpected pop in his bat in the low minors to pair with what is considered at least average-ish work behind the plate. Sadly, he was completely overmatched in Triple-A, leaving him an aging prospect with little upside outside of being competent defensively. Another victim of roster mismanagement by the White Sox.

Yermín Mercedes

Honestly, this guy should not be catching. Like, ever. I suppose one argument in favor of him behind the plate is a surprisingly high caught stealing percentage (38% for his minor league career, 44% between Birmingham and Charlotte in 2019), but just about everything else is a train wreck. What’s uncertain is how long the White Sox will be able to keep him on the 40-man, and if he could get through waivers if they need to make room.

Gunnar Troutwine

Last seen posting unexceptional numbers in Kannapolis, Troutwine will be entering his age-26 season in 2022 and needs a pretty big year in the minors to be a consideration.

Carlos Perez

25 years old for 2022, Perez was an international signing out of Venezuela who had advanced to Winston-Salem posting mediocre-but-passable numbers. Like Troutwine, he’d need a big year to advance to being an option.

Nate Nolan

A 2016 eighth round pick out of St. Mary’s College, Nolan will be entering his age-27 season. While he’s advanced as far as Charlotte, he has MASSIVE contact issues (38.3% K rate in 2019, mostly in Birmingham) as a hitter while catching fewer than 20% of base stealers. Probably more unlikely than even Troutwine and Perez, despite being further along in the system.