Examining Catchers That the Tampa Bay Rays Could Trade For
By Drew Jenkins
The Tampa Bay Rays reshaped their catching picture last week when they dealt Ryan Hanigan to the San Diego Padres in the Wil Myers trade and netted fellow backstop Rene Rivera in return. However, that did not solve the catching issues that have been around since the Rays released Jose Molina earlier in the offseason.
If the season started today, the Rays would have a competition between Bobby Wilson and Curt Casali for their backup catcher position. However, Wilson hasn’t hit at all in 451 big league plate appearances while Casali didn’t even swing the bat particularly well at Triple-A in 2014. Casali, or one of Luke Maile and Justin O’Conner for that matter, could be ready to be a big league catcher sooner rather than later. But until then, the Rays need another backstop option to pair with Rivera.
The crop of remaining free agent catchers is fairly underwhelming, and thus the team might be better suited to turn to the trade market to find their catcher. With that in mind, here’s a look at catchers for whom the Rays could look to deal.
Josmil Pinto, Minnesota Twins
Just a year ago, it looked like the Twins were prepared to hand Pinto their starting catcher reigns with Joe Mauer moving to first base. Kurt Suzuki then burst onto the scene and had a great year, and the Twins promptly gave him an extension, leaving Pinto stuck in a backup role for the foreseeable future. That could mean that the Twins would be open to dealing him for the right price.
Pinto, 25, has a strong track record as a hitter, slashing .275/.353/.441 in his minor league career and following that with a .257/.339/.445 line and a 121 wRC+ in his first 78 big league games. He has also thrown out a solid 32% of potential basestealers in his minor league career, but that has regressed to 16% in his short big league career, and his overall defensive package is not well regarded.
Still, given his ability to hit at a position that is notorious for its lack of offensive production, Pinto seems like he could valuable in a backup or tandem catcher role. Plus, he is still controllable for six seasons and will play at least the next two seasons at the league minimum salary.
Carlos Corporan, Houston Astros
Corporan served as the backup catcher for the Astros in 2014, but this offseason the team went out and acquired Hank Conger. With incumbent starter Jason Castro still in the picture, Corporan is a clear trade candidate.
Though he has thrown out a nothing-special 23% of runners in his career, Corporan is regarded as a decent defender. According to Stat Corner, he ranked as the 19th best pitch-framer in baseball, saving 5.6 runs above the league average catcher despite the fact that he played in just 55 games. Fangraphs’ Def stat says that he has been saved 9.2 runs above league average on defense in his 199 career games, a solid mark.
Corporan does not particularly special with the bat, but he is more than passable as a catcher, as he’s hit .237/.297/.383 over the past three years. In 2014, he hit .235/.302/.376 with a 93 wRC+, which was comparable to the league average catcher’s wRC+ of 93.
He is not overwhelming, but Corporan would be a decent option, especially as a stopgap until one of the prospects is ready. He is controllable for three more years and will likely receive a modest salary in 2015 in his first go-around at arbitration.
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Welington Castillo, Chicago Cubs
Castillo served as the Cubs’ starting catcher for the past two seasons, but he is on the outside looking in now after the Cubs traded for Miguel Montero and signed David Ross this offseason. As such, it would be a shock if Castillo was not traded this offseason.
In 286 career big league games, Castillo has been a solid .256/.324/.400 hitter. He is also a good defender, having thrown out 32% of would-be basestealers. Def pegs him to have been worth 36 runs above average on defense over his career, and he has been especially impressive over the last two years, posting Def’s of above 15 both seasons.
Castillo is probably the Rays best option on the open market, but he would also come at the highest price. Still, he would be a great tandem catcher at the very least, if not a potential starter. He is also controlled for three years and will make a reasonable salary in 2015 in his first arbitration season.
Hector Sanchez, San Francisco Giants
Playing for the Giants, Sanchez clearly already struggles to find playing time behind Buster Posey, who is arguably the game’s best catcher. Now prospect Andrew Susac has proven himself ready for big league time, and that could leave Sanchez without a roster spot.
Sanchez would be an interesting buy-low candidate with some upside for the Rays. He is a career .280/.365/.435 hitter in the minors, but his bat has stalled against advanced pitching, and he has posted just a .661 OPS at Triple-A and a .630 mark in the big leagues. He is also regarded as simply an average defender.
Nevertheless, Sanchez is only 25 years old, and he mashed just about every step of the way in the minors until hitting Triple-A. That gives him some potential, and he should be at least a passable stopgap. Sanchez would likely not cost anything too significant in a trade, and even if he’s only a one-year option, catchers like Maile and O’Conner should be ready before long.
These are just four potential acquisition candidates for the Tampa Bay Rays, but each one comes with his own intrigue. We will have to wait and see whether the team does indeed pursue a trade to improve their catching situation for next season.