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Deep Dive: Free Agent Catchers

It’s slim pickings in this year’s free-agent class of backstops.

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox
Hey, guess what, Roberto Pérez is one of several backup catching options for the White Sox in this year’s free agent class.
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position is made up of five parts:

  1. Depth in the Rookie Leagues (Dominican through Arizona)
  2. Depth in A-Ball (Kannapolis through Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players
  5. Free-agent options

With two years and $36.5 million remaining on his contract, Yasmani Grandal should be a lock to be the regular starting catcher for the 2022 White Sox, barring another injury, or an unforeseen trade. However, there are questions as to who his backup will be.

Of the three other catchers on the 40-man roster, Seby Zavala provided the best framing numbers, Yermín Mercedes the best hitting numbers (though uneven), and Zack Collins has the left-handed bat and first-round pedigree. Also, upper-level backstops Carlos Pérez and Xavier Fernández are unproven at the Triple-A level. With Collins, Zavala and Mercedes all having options remaining for next year, it’s possible that the White Sox may look elsewhere via trade or free agency for Grandal’s backup. Below, in order of WARP (Baseball Prospectus WAR, used because it most thoroughly incorporates framing into its value), are the best available catchers via free agency.

(player age is as of April 1, 2022)

Buster Posey
San Francisco Giants
2021 WARP: 3.9
Slash/power: .304/.390/.499 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs
Age: 35

The Giants have a club option on Posey for $22 million. He could be eligible for the $18.4 million qualifying offer if the Giants don’t want to pay the higher price tag, but it seems likelier that the Giants will simply accept the option on their fan favorite.

Mike Zunino
Tampa Bay Rays
2021 WARP: 3.1
Slash/power: .216/.301/.559 with 33 homers and 62 RBIs
Age: 31

The Rays have a club option on Zunio for $7 million, which was increase from $3 million because he exceeded 100 games caught. Normally, this option is a no-brainer to pick up given the high WARP; however, with the way the Rays operate, a trade or even an option decline wouldn’t be out of the question.

Christian Vazquez
Boston Red Sox
2021 WARP: 1.9
Slash/power: .258/.308/.352 with six homers and 49 RBIs
Age: 31

The starting backstop for the Red Sox carries a club option for $7 million for the 2022 season. It seems likely this will be picked up. Vazquez was successful in stifling nearly 25% of stolen base attempts.

Yan Gomes
Oakland Athletics
2021 WARP: 1.7
Slash: .252/.301/.421 with 14 homers and 42 RBIs
Age: 34

Gomes continued to drink from the fountain of youth in 2021, as he split time between the Nationals and Athletics. He thwarted 31% of stolen base attempts, although his framing numbers were below average.

Manny Pina
Milwaukee Brewers
2021 WARP: 1.7
Slash/Power: .189/.293/.439 with 13 homers and 33 RBIs
Age: 34

Despite a low batting average, Pina is considered one of the best pitch framers in the game. This year, he set a career high in round-trippers.

Tucker Barnhart
Cincinnati Reds
2021 WARP: 0.7
Slash/power: .247/.317/.368 with seven homers and 48 RBIs
Age: 31

The Reds have a club option on Barnhart for $7.5 million for 2022. It’s conceivable that the Reds don’t honor that option, but it will be a tough decision regardless. Barnhart threw out 28% of attempted base-stealers and wields a left-handed bat. His framing numbers this year were outstanding.

Wilson Ramos
2021 WARP: 0.3
Slash/power: .205/.248/.397 with eight homers and 20 RBIs
Age: 34

Once known as one of the best framers in the game, Ramos actually has been subpar over the last five years in that area. This year, he eliminated 16% of potential stolen-base attempts.

Roberto Pérez
2021 WARP: 0.2
Slash/power: .149/.245/.319 with seven homers and 45 RBIs
Age: 33

Cleveland has a club option on Pérez for $7 million, which it seems unlikely to honor. Normally, Pérez is a better than average pitch framer, but was slightly below average this year, It wasn’t all that long ago (2019) when Pérez hit 24 homers, and has been successful in thwarting 39% of stolen base attempts throughout his career.

Kurt Suzuki
2021 WARP: 0.2
Slash/power: .224/.294/.342 with six homers and 16 RBIs
Age: 38

Suzuki’s no longer the player who hit .283 with 19 homers just four years ago. His framing numbers have been basically average throughout his career, and he was successful in derailing 19% of potential base thefts this year.

Robinson Chirinos
Chicago Cubs
2021 WARP: 0.1
Slash/power: .227/.324/.454 with five homers and 15 RBIs
Age: 37

Chirinos usually calls a good game, but his framing and stolen base thrwarting (27%) have both been slightly below average throughout his career.

Jose Lobaton
Chicago Cubs
2021 WARP: 0.0
Age: 37

Similar to Mathis below, Lobaton also went hitless this year, albeit in 11 at-bats. He’s been mostly a minor-leaguer these past few years, and has been successful in ruining the dreams of 21% of attempted base-stealers in his 10-year career.

Jeff Mathis
Atlanta Braves
2021 WARP: 0.0
Age: 38

Mathis was hitless in nine at-bats this year for Atlanta. Like Vogt below, it doesn’t appear he has much left in the tank.

Stephen Vogt
Atlanta Braves
2021 WARP: 0.0 (did not play)
Age: 37

Vogt didn’t play for Atlanta this year due to a hip issue, and hasn’t played since the 2019 season. That year, he did provide a 1.4 WARP for the Giants with 10 homers in 99 games, but this could be the end of the road for the venerable catcher.

Sandy Leon
Miami Marlins
2021 WARP: -0.2
Slash/power: .183/.237/.267 with four homers and 14 RBIs
Age: 33

Leon, who was a long-time Red Sox backstop, is just a lifetime .212 hitter. He has been proven to be slightly above-average throughout his career as a framer, and threw out 27% of potential base-stealers in 2021.

Austin Romine
Chicago Cubs
2021 WAR: -0.2
Slash/power: .217/.242/.300 with one homer and five RBIs
Age: 33

Of course, the only homer this year for Romine came against former Cub/current White Sox Craig Kimbrel. For what it’s worth, he has also played first base in his career.

There’s not much to speak of on this list, and the best of the group have club options that could keep them from free agency. Fortunately for the White Sox, they don’t need a starting backstop. Of course, they could be content with any of Zack Collins, Seby Zavala or even Carlos Pérez in the backup role (Yermín Mercedes is best suited as a third/fourth catcher or DH). However, if the Sox are interested in going outside the organization for a No. 2, a couple of these guys may be worth considering, as the price tag should be light.