It’s not a rule that in order to have sustained success a team has to have a really good catcher. Sure does help, though.
The White Sox provide a good example. During the amazing 17-year stretch of winning records from 1951 to 1967, they had Sherm Lollar behind the plate most of the time, from 1952-63. Lollar was a veteran when the Sox got him, but he stepped it up to Gold Glove levels when manager Paul Richards told him to depart from his natural quietness and become a vocal team leader.
Of course, being the White Sox, having a great catcher didn’t always work (witness the so-so records with Carlton Fisk), but the rah-rah bit did. A.J. Pierzynski had a solid defensive year in 2005, but it’s the vocal part we all remember helping the Sox to a World Series win — their first trip to the Series since 1959, when Lollar helped the way.
The reason Lollar only had one World Series trip was the dominance of the Yankees at that time, a team that had a number of Hall-of-Famers, a key among them Yogi Berra. And the Yankees most often were facing the Dodgers — Brooklyn variety — and the terrific Roy Campanella.
Come forward to the ’70s and there was the Big Red Machine with Johnny Bench, perhaps the greatest catcher of them all, leading the way. On the American League side, the A’s dominated, with Ray Fosse calling the pitches.
If you prefer more recent impact, there was early Yadier Molina getting two championships with the Cardinals, the San Francisco string of ring collecting from 2010-14 with Buster Posey, and even the Royals consecutive World Series appearances with Salvador Pérez. And it sure helped the Phillies to have J.R. Realmuto last year.
Great catching doesn’t necessarily lead to championships — if it did, Iván Rodríguez would have a ring on each finger. Including thumbs. But even Rick Hahn can recognize the importance of catchers, hence the $73 million contract for Yasmani Grandal (that played out OK for a little while, but then knees and age took their toll and the contract no longer seems like such a good idea).
Great shortstopping is the next-most important aspect, with the catchers named above playing with Luis Aparicio, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Barry Larkin, Bert Campaneris, Brandon Crawford (or Sox buddy Juan Uribe), and Alcides Escobar (OK, not an all-time great, but an All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 2015). But their catchers led the way.
(Yeah, yeah — when the White Sox had Fisk behind the plate, they mostly had an outstanding Ozzie Guillén at short, to no avail. But that’s just the Sox.)
WHY ALL THIS BORING HISTORY BLATHER, OLD TIMER?
Funny you should ask, you young whippersnappers. It’s because unless Hahn is nuts, the White Sox are about to be trading veterans for prospects. A lot has been guessed about which veterans will go, but less about which prospects to seek, of which the most important to look at are catchers.
Grandal has become a liability behind the plate, and will be a free agent anyway. Seby Zavala has improved but will always be below-average defensively, besides which the Sox don’t hit well enough to carry the hole in his bat, as Houston can do with Martin Maldonado. And Carlos Pérez hasn’t been on any top prospect lists for a reason.
The problem is finding good catching prospects, which are so rare that teams tend to hold on to them desperately. However, there is a possible solution.
PRAY TELL, WHAT SOLUTION?
There are actually two teams who each have two slots among the Top 10 catchers on MLB.com prospect lists.
One is the Angels, but they aren’t likely to be big buyers by the trade deadline. It’s the other one that’s interesting — and a perfect fit for the White Sox.
The Dodgers already have the marvelous Will Smith behind the plate, with team control to 2026, but they have also have the top-rated catching prospect in Diego Cartaya and the No. 8, Dalton Rushing. Cartaya is in that top spot despite struggling at the plate in Tulsa this season, so obviously scouts really like what they see.
Further, the Dodgers are a natural landing spot for L.A. native Lucas Giolito, their bullpen has been awful, and losing Gavin Lux to injury for the season after Trea Turner left in free agency has left big holes in the middle infield. The White Sox just happen to have what they need.
SO LET’S MAKE A DEAL, RIGHT?
Not so fast, Weedhopper. First, we have to have a conversation between general managers, with Brandon Gomes of the Dodgers in italics. We pick up after pleasantries have been exchanged and gentle nudging has taken place. and Hahn admits that maybe, possibly, the White Sox aren’t fully competitive this year.
So, anyway, Rick, I’m sure you’ve heard that we have an interest in bringing Lucas Giolito back to his hometown, despite that last outing of his.
Yes, Mr. Gomes, sir, I have heard that. Of course, we would expect a good return.
Naturally, even though he is a rental and had that awful last appearance. What might you be seeking?
The main thing would be a catching prospect. We’ re a trifle light in that regard. I was thinking Lucas for Diego Cartaya.
[Laughing heartily] Diego is our top prospect, just going through a little hitting adjustment in Tulsa to get more launch. No way he goes for a rental. Or at all. If he did, we’d be looking for a great deal in return.
Luis Robert Jr. would be a good choice.
(chortles) My turn to laugh. Luis is strictly off-limits. As is Dylan Cease, before you ask. I might offer some other rentals, though. Possibly even someone with control next year.
Let’s just consider Diego in the same category. I do have another excellent catcher in the system, though. Dalton Rushing wouldn’t be majors-ready until at least 2025, maybe a trifle later, but he’s really good.
I’ve watched the video. Straight-up for Lucas?
I didn’t say that. But we could use some bullpen help. And injuries have hurt the middle infield. If he turns out to be healthy, we’d take Joe Kelly back. If he’s not, say, Keynan Middleton. And despite his rough season, Tim Anderson might help us and benefit from a change of scenery — if Anderson is OK playing second. Rojas can’t hit, but he plays much better D.
Understood. Everyone who wants Tim wants him at second. For that matter, so do we, but we’re shaky on getting it done. Still, that’s a lot for a prospect several years away. I don’t think we can do that. But maybe if you sweeten the pot. Maybe with a pitcher or two.
Or two? For rentals and a semi-rental listed with negative trade value? No thanks. But, I’ll tell you what. I won’t let anyone go who has dropped by the majors this year, but I’ll give you a choice of, oh, Nick Frasso, Landon Knack, or Maddux Bruns. How’s that? They’re all better than anyone you have in the pipeline.
I wouldn’t say that. But it’s a consideration. However, I have lots and lots of other excellent offers for all of them to consider.
MUCH HEMMING AN HAWING AND STALLING AND POSTURING, THEN, EVENTUALLY
The deal is done, and Lucas and Tim get to play for a winner in a winning organization, as does whatever pitcher ends up traveling. And Rushing, currently with an .882 OPS with the Great Lakes Loons, at least gets a much bigger shot at playing time. And in a system with its own Loons, mostly in charge.
SEE? GENERAL MANAGING IS REALLY EASY AFTER ALL