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2018-19 Free Agency Preview: Catchers

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Beginning this Saturday, baseball’s free agents will be eligible to sign with any team they want.

We’re in the process of breaking down the best available free agents by position, with some special attention paid to the top guys at each spot. We’ve already done starting pitchersrelief pitchersoutfielders, middle infielders, and corner infielders. Now let’s do catchers.

Who’s Available?

Drew Butera
A.J. Ellis
Chris Gimenez
Yasmani Grandal
Nick Hundley
Jose Lobaton
Jonathan Lucroy
Martin Maldonado
Jeff Mathis
Brian McCann
Devin Mesoraco
Wilson Ramos
Rene Rivera
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Kurt Suzuki
Matt Wieters
Bobby Wilson

Kind of an underwhelming list. Despite a subpar postseason showing both offensively and defensively, Yasmani Grandal is the top catcher on this list and will be pursued as such. Grandal turns 30 next week, but has been an above-average hitter every year of his career. By adjusted OPS, 2018 was his best offensive showing in the regular season to date, finishing with a .241/.349/.466 triple-slash line along with 24 home runs and 68 RBI in 518 plate appearances.

I have Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki in the next echelon of free agent catchers. Ramos is coming off of a terrific season split between the Rays and Phillies, batting an aggregate .306/.358/.487 with 15 home runs and 70 RBI in 416 plate appearances. He’s 31 years old and is a below average defender, but very few catchers in baseball can match his bat. Suzuki, meanwhile, had another good year behind the dish for the Braves while swinging an above-average stick. He had a .776 OPS with 12 homers and 50 RBI.

The third tier of catchers includes Nick Hundley, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado, Jeff Mathis, Brian McCann, and Matt Wieters. These guys all have much bigger holes in their game compared to the catchers above them. Hundley and Maldonado play solid defense while Lucroy and McCann will draw interest based on their reputations as hitters, even if their best years are behind them.

The rest of the list includes catchers who will either retire or settle for minor league deals most likely.

Who’s Shopping?

The Yankees could get in on the action here, emboldened by the subpar year Gary Sánchez had. It would seem they would, however, prioritize acquire Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto first. A Realmuto trade might not happen until February and the likes of Grandal, Ramos, and Suzuki will likely be off the board by then.

The Nationals were the most involved in Realmuto trade talks leading up to last July’s non-waiver trade deadline. If they feel like a Realmuto acquisition is further out of the question, a reunion with Wieters or Ramos would make sense, as would spending big to bring in Grandal.

Braves ownership has been historically stingy, so it would seem unlikely they make a bid for Grandal. Bringing Suzuki back into the fold would make sense but the club may feel like Tyler Flowers can handle a starting role after signing him to an extension in August. Nick Hundley would also be a fit for the Braves.

The Phillies seem committed to starting Jorge Alfaro. As good as Wilson Ramos was for them in the second half last year, the club would more prominently need a veteran backup to eschew Andrew Knapp. That role might better be filled by a Martin Maldonado or Jeff Mathis.

Staying in the NL East, the Mets’ catching depth chart currently includes Kevin Plawecki and Tomas Nido. It’s hard to say right now exactly how new GM Brodie Van Wagenen plans to approach the offseason. A few big free agent signings lands the Mets back into NL East contention. The catching position is clearly one of need for the Mets.

Losing both McCann and Maldonado to free agency, the Astros may want to go big on a starting catcher and move Max Stassi to a backup role. Adding Grandal might be the biggest improvement the club can realistically make on offense given everyone else’s cemented status.

Similarly, the Dodgers are losing Grandal to free agency. Grandal was booed by home fans during the postseason due to a series of defensive miscues, so there is a chance that neither the Dodgers nor Grandal is interested in a reunion. Realmuto is baseball’s best catcher at the moment, so expect the Dodgers to prioritize that over the otherwise underwhelming list of free agent catchers.

Phillies-Mets could get contentious tonight

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As the Mets were wrapping up a 9-0 shellacking of the Phillies on Tuesday night, reliever Jacob Rhame threw a pitch up and in to first baseman Rhys Hoskins with two outs in the ninth inning. The pitch sailed behind Hoskins’ back. The slugger wasn’t happy about the scare, understandably. Players began to trickle out of their respective dugouts, but a fracas was avoided.

Hoskins was skeptical that Rhame simply missed his spot. Per MLB.com’s Thomas Harrigan, Hoskins said, “He didn’t miss up and in the rest of the inning, so I’ll let you decide. I would assume teams are pitching me in because that’s where they think they can get me out, and that’s fine. That’s part of the game. Again, I think most guys are capable of pitching inside and not missing that bad.”

Teammate Bryce Harper said, “I don’t get it. I understand that two of their guys got hit yesterday. But, I mean, if it’s baseball and you’re going to drill somebody, at least hit him in the [butt]. Not in the head. You throw 98, it’s scary now. You could kill somebody. Lose your eyesight. That’s bigger than the game.”

Indeed, two Mets were hit by pitches on Monday night. José Álvarez hit Jeff McNeil in the seventh inning, which advanced a base runner. In the very next at-bat, Juan Nicasio hit Pete Alonso with a first-pitch fastball. It was obvious neither was intentional as the Phillies were only down two runs and hitting both batters advanced base runners and led to runs scoring. It is less obvious that Rhame’s pitch to Hoskins was unintentional, but he showed empathy in his post-game comments. Rhame said, “When you accidentally sail one, it’s probably pretty scary. I’d get [angry], too.”

Will Wednesday night’s series finale be contentious? Despite being “fairly upset,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said, “We do not retaliate, and we do not throw at anybody intentionally,” Jake Seiner of the Associated Press reports.

Mets manager Mickey Calloway didn’t give as straight an answer. Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Calloway said, “I think at this point, you just go out there and beat people, and win. … For now, I don’t feel like anything has been intentional at us that has warranted anything from our side.” If that changes, however, Calloway said, “They’re going to have each other’s backs.”

Hopefully, neither side decides to take justice into their own hands. But, welcome to the NL East in 2019. The Mets lead the Phillies by one game, and the Braves and Nationals by 1.5 games. It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out division fight all year long.