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Giants trade for C Erik Kratz, but the Opening Day roster remains in flux

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13 pitchers? Three catchers? Pablo Sandoval on the IL? The next 72-90 hours will be very interesting.

MLB: Spring Training-Milwaukee Brewers at Los Angeles Angels
mfw I realize I’m being traded from a playoff team to the Giants
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Erik Kratz went 5-for-8 with 2 RBI in the 2018 NLDS against the Rockies while playing for the Brewers as their backup catcher. After Milwaukee signed Yasmani Grandal this offseason, his roster spot disappeared, but it took until literally 4 days before Major League Baseball’s official Opening Day for any resolution on that matter. This morning, the Giants traded for him in exchange for infielder C.J. Hinojosa.

Kratz turns 39 in June and despite playing in nine major league seasons has only 868 plate appearances and a slash of .211 / .258 / .363. So, why didn’t the Giants just re-sign Nick Hundley? After all, the 2017 Willie Mac Award winner has better career numbers with the bat and even signed for a deal that’s less than Kratz’s ($1.25 million versus $1.5 million). Well, since 2016, Kratz has +6.6 runs saved thanks to his catch framing abilities and in his career, he’s thrown out 32.7% of base stealers. Hundley is -23.9 over the same span of time and has thrown out just 26.3% of base stealers for his career.

Kratz is just a better defensive catcher.

But it’s unclear why the Giants released Rene Rivera yesterday only to turn around and trade for Kratz. They gave up a prospect from their thin farm system and cash considerations in exchange for a guy four years older, more expensive (presumably; although, the terms of Rivera’s minor league deal were unclear), and not as good defensively as someone they already had in camp.

Rivera is recovering from knee surgery, however, and after slugging .590 for the Cubs very briefly in 2017, he didn’t hit any home runs for the Giants this spring and posted an OPS of just .690. Kratz’s numbers were much nicer (.749 OPS with two home runs), though it seems hard to believe that Spring Training numbers tells the whole story here. For his career, Rivera has caught 37% of base stealers and is a +13.2 runs in the catch framing category. Better, younger, cheaper than Kratz, but the Giants probably know better why they released him and traded for Erik Kratz than we do and could even guess.

In any case, that’s not the only surprising part of the transaction. The acquisition of Kratz did not close the door on Aramis Garcia making the Opening Day roster. Alex Pavlovic reported:

Bochy said the Giants are considering going with three catchers to start the year, allowing them to rest Posey more often and put Aramis Garcia’s thump on the bench.

”It’s a pretty big bat,” Bochy said of Garcia, “And he does a nice job wherever we put him (catcher or first base).”

Not only are the Giants looking at carrying three catchers, they’re also considering carrying thirteen pitchers. That means the Opening Day roster looks something like this:

Hitters:

Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria, Steven Duggar, Gerardo Parra, Michael Reed, Connor Joe, Yangervis Solarte, Erik Kratz, Aramis Garcia

Pitchers:

Madison Bumgarner, Derek Holland, Dereck Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz, Jeff Samardzija, Will Smith, Tony Watson, Reyes Moronta, Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson, Travis Bergen, Nick Vincent

What happens to Trevor Gott, Mac Williamson, Alen Hanson, and Pablo Sandoval? As I posted yesterday, here’s who’s left in camp:

Trevor Gott
Pablo Sandoval
Alen Hanson
Donovan Solano
Stephen Vogt
Henry Ramos
Chris Stratton
Andrew Suarez
Ty Blach

Gott might not actually be the 13th pitcher. I could be wrong and I’m just making an assumption. Gott is out of options, just like Alen Hanson, Mac Williamson, Chris Stratton, and Michael Reed. Connor Joe is a Rule 5 pick. Meanwhile, we know that Stephen Vogt will be sent to the minors (should he agree to the terms) to get more reps as he returns from shoulder surgery and Suarez and Blach have options; the rumors on Twitter suggest that the team will figure out a way to put Pablo Sandoval on the injured list to start the season. Assuming that’s true, it narrows the camp battle down to this:

Trevor Gott
Alen Hanson
Donovan Solano
Chris Stratton
Mac Williamson

I’m not sure who wins the battle between Stratton and Gott for that thirteenth spot on the pitching staff. The Giants still seem to be very “in” on Stratton, but Gott seems to be the hard thrower the Giants need. Stratton’s curveball and endurance teases an effective innings eater. 15 strikeouts against 3 walks in 15 spring innings can certainly mitigate the tragic memory of his 2018 season, and it seems as though that the recent performance is what’s holding the team’s interest. Otherwise, it’s not really a question to me: it’s Gott.

The remaining “inventory” looks like a real toss up between fungible and “we need him because we don’t have anybody else who can do the job”. The roster looks a lot like another trade is coming, especially when you zero in on that outfield. Mac Williamson hasn’t done anything to lock down a role, but the Giants just barely got a look at Connor Joe and Michael Reed. Are they really going to clear out the lane for either of them? Are they really going to keep one but not the other in favor of carrying three catchers and thirteen pitchers to start the season?

Even if the Giants optioned Aramis Garcia, they’d still have two roster spots to decide between: the 12th hitter and 13th pitcher. Do you keep Mac or Hanson? Gott or Stratton? I have a headache. I suspect the Giants do, too, and that’s why you should figure they’ll make at least one more trade before the season begins on Thursday.