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Who’s the backup catcher in 2019?

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In the unsexiest offseason of all time, let’s look at the unsexiest roster spot in all of baseball.

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San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

The Giants have added multiple players this offseason who can play multiple positions but none of them exceptionally well, and yet, none of them could be the backup catcher. That means there’s still the possibility that Farhan Zaidi & co look to upgrade one more roster spot before locking in the roster for its 70-92 season.

Aramis Garcia showed that he could play first base a little bit in very limited action and he hit four home runs in 19 games, but those were (nearly) all September games, which technically count in the season record but should be 100% discounted when planning the next season. If September call-up performances mattered that much, then Buster Posey would’ve been traded in 2010 instead of being handed a starting job.

So, let’s assume that Garcia, who has played all of 10 Triple-A games, is projected to be about a 0.2-win player, and has options remaining, is not the favorite. Where does that leave the Giants? Here are the remaining free agent catchers thanks to this handy list provided by MLB.com (2019 season age and 2018 fWAR in parenthesis):

Yasmani Grandal (30 years old, 3.6 fWAR)

Martin Maldonado (32, 0.9)

Nick Hundley (35, 0.9)

Matt Wieters (33, 0.9)

A.J. Ellis (38, 0.8)

Devin Mesoraco (31, 0.7)

Rene Rivera (35, 0.3)

Juan Graterol, C (29, 0.1)

Caleb Joseph (32, 0.0)

Chris Stewart (37, -0.1)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (34, -0.2)

Drew Butera (35, -0.3)

Stephen Vogt (34, N/A) -- Didn’t appear in MLB in 2018.

That’s not an inspiring list after Yasmani Grandal, who wouldn’t want to be a backup and even if he did, you might still have problems with him despite 73 home runs and a .799 OPS over the past three seasons (1,457 plate appearances) because of, you know, the Dodgers and his up and down defensive tendencies (which is really more of a perception problem than a reality problem). And there’s the matter of the draft pick compensation and large AAV (apparently, he has already turned down a 4-year, $60 million offer).

It’d be easy to just bring back site favorite Nick Hundley and call it a day, and that’s what Evans and Sabean would’ve done in November, but we have to assume that Farhan Zaidi has surveyed the organization and decided to do the exact opposite of what has been standard operating procedure for 20+ years. The Willie Mac winner holds no sway.

Stephen Vogt intends to play in 2019 after a shoulder injury derailed his tenure in Milwaukee. I could see him getting a minor league deal / Spring Training invite, but that’s just based on the assumption that Zaidi would love to collect his faves from the A’s days. He, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Drew Butera, Rene Rivera, and Caleb Joseph are all players who provide more defensive value than offensive value, and even then, it’s not like they’re 1-win players based solely on defense.

Chris Stewart is ancient and if you don’t remember his time with the team in 2011, just remember that the pitch framing and defensive skills did not make up for the sub-cardboard stand-in level of offense he provided.

Andrew Baggarly name checks Matt Wieters in his piece for The Athletic today (subscription required), noting,

He might not offer any positional flexibility, but his switch-hitting bat at least gives him matchup versatility and it helps that he’s a bit more productive against right-handed pitching

which would be a good way to semi-platoon Buster Posey or simply lengthen the lineup on days when Posey’s at first and Belt’s in left. He’s an interesting option, projecting to be a 1+-win player based almost solely on his glove. He made about $10.5 million in 2018, but even if he takes a pay cut of 50%, that might still be too rich for the Giants’ blood when it comes to a backup catcher (albeit one who might get 350-400 at bats).

Devin Mesoraco is basically a younger version of Nick Hundley for his career, but projects to be better offensively in 2019. He also made $13 million+ in 2018, so he would also be too expensive.

So, factoring in cost and value, that leaves this group:

Martin Maldonado (32, 0.9)

He’s projected to be the same ~1-win player he was in 2018, based solely on his defensive ability (+11.3 runs this past season). His career line of .220 / .289 / .350 means you might want to yell at me for besmirching 2011 Chris Stewart (career line .230 / .297 / .291), whose +12.3 runs in 2011 was better, but ... uh... I got nothing. He will be all glove and no bat, but his projected 12 home runs (per Baseball Reference) might still be good enough for 3rd-most on the Giants in 2019. He made $3.9 million last season, so that money puts him right on the borderline of positive value in a smart GM’s mind, I’d think.

A.J. Ellis (38, 0.8)

This feels like it’d be a Dodger troll job on Zaidi’s part if he signed him and not Hundley, but Ellis’ advanced age might lower his cost and his plate discipline (.378 OBP in 66 games last season, .340 for his career) might give him just enough surplus value for a low-cost deal (he made $1.25 million with the Padres last season). He’s not terrible with the glove, either (projected to be +1.7 runs on defense).

Juan Graterol, C (29, 0.1)

He’s played all of 61 games at the major league level (.499 OPS), so he’d seem to be about the same as Aramis Garcia, option-wise, except much older. His career minor league OPS of .653 isn’t promising, either. Still in those 61 career MLB games, he’s accumulated a +3.6 on defense. The only scouting report I could find on him comes from former Angels manager Mike Scioscia (Graterol was with Los Angeheim from 2016-2018):

Juan is a really good receiver with soft hands,” Scioscia said. “He blocks well, does all the things behind the plate that you want to see.

That’s... well... he’s a backup backup catcher. All his value comes with his glove.

Edited to add: As gianator notes below, the Giants signed Cameron Rupp to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. He’ll be 30 and has been, for his career, more glove than offense (+23.1 runs in 296 ML games), but he does have a little pop (30 home runs combined from 2016-2017). Could be a factor.

The options are... options, but not inspiring or exciting in any way. Who are you taking?

Poll

Best backup catcher option

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Martin Maldonado
    (36 votes)
  • 6%
    A.J. Ellis
    (39 votes)
  • 42%
    Aramis Garcia
    (245 votes)
  • 6%
    Ew, I’ll take the crab juice
    (35 votes)
  • 25%
    duh, Pablo Sandoval
    (147 votes)
  • 12%
    Cameron Rupp
    (71 votes)
573 votes total Vote Now