B/R MLB Offseason 100: The Top 10 Catchers Available for 2017
These 10 catchers are either free agents or trade targets pulled from rumors and/or plausible speculation. They're ranked based on how they fared in the following scoring system:
- Talent Outlook: Out of 70. This is where we look at how guys have performed recently and consider the outlook of their skills going forward. Think of 35 out of 70 as a league-average player and 70 out of 70 as a Mike Trout-like talent.
- Durability Outlook: Out of 20. This is where we probe track records and injury histories for a projection for how guys' bodies will hold up. Think of 10 out of 20 as signaling a toss-up as to whether guys will remain durable, with 20 out of 20 indicating no concerns whatsoever. To keep things fair, we'll allow a ceiling of 15 points for players in line for short-term commitments.
- Value Outlook: Out of 10. This is where we try to project what kind of contract or trade package it's going to take to acquire a guy and then determine if he'd be worth it. Think of five out of 10 as a fair deal, with zero being a megabust and 10 being a megasteal.
In the event of ties, the nod will be given to the player we'd rather sign or trade for.
Now that you know everything you need to know, it's time to take it away.
10. Alex Avila, C, Free Agent
Alex Avila's All-Star peak of 2011 is a distant memory. He's had trouble staying on the field and has devolved into an inconsistent performer on both sides of the ball. On defense, in particular, he's coming off a year in which he struggled policing runners (22 CS%) and framing strikes.
Avila does still have some qualities. One is an outstanding eye that allows him to boost his OBP with walks. He's also generally good against right-handed pitching. A team that picks him up will have to hope he stays healthy, but could be rewarded with a solid platoon catcher.
Injuries have conspired to limit Avila to 124 total games over the last two seasons. He also has a troubling history with concussions that can't be overlooked.
The bright side should be that he's only in line for a one-year deal this winter. But that was also the case last winter, and it didn't pan out with a healthy season. So, no promises.
Avila was signed on a one-year, $2.5 million contract last winter. Odds are he's in line for something similar to that this winter. Perhaps even something cheaper with more incentives.
Basically, he'll be picked up for next to nothing. Even with no guarantees he'll produce, he's as low-risk as they come.
9. Nick Hundley, C, Free Agent
It looks all well and good that Nick Hundley followed an .807 OPS in 2015 with a .759 OPS in 2016. But those are Coors Field numbers. And defensively, Hundley struggled both with throwing out runners (14 CS%) and with framing in 2016. Per StatCorner, he was one of the worst at the latter.
Still, the 33-year-old hasn't harmed his reputation as a dependable semi-regular catcher. If nothing else, he can be put in the crouch for 80 to 100 games per year. In a weak catching market, this reality is appealing enough to earn a few looks.
Hundley is a typical catcher in this department. He's been injured for a good portion of his career, suffering everything from a broken wrist to elbow and knee surgeries to a couple of concussions.
Through it all, he's still averaged 83 games per season since 2008. That goes back to his quality of at least being a warm body teams can strap catching gear on. That should continue in what will likely be a short-term deal.
Hundley's deal with the Colorado Rockies was for two years and $6.25 million. Between him, David Ross, Brayan Pena and Tyler Flowers, that seems to be the going rate for solid non-everyday catchers.
So expect him to land in roughly that same territory.
8. Carlos Ruiz, C, Trade/Free Agent
Source: Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports
Whether Carlos Ruiz wants to keep playing in 2017 is a good question. Then there's the question that has already been answered: He's no longer an everyday player. After playing in 86 games in 2015, he played in only 62 games in 2016.
A part-time role suits him on offense. Ruiz has always hit lefties, posting an .811 OPS against them for his career and a .793 OPS against them in 2016. That quality and his veteran leadership are enough to counterbalance his lack of qualities elsewhere, as he's no longer a gem on defense.
Lengthy disabled list stints in 2012, 2013 and 2014 are part of the reason Ruiz was downgraded to part-time status. Well, that and the fact that he's 37 years old. That's ancient for a catcher.
Still, it's not like Ruiz's next team will be asking him to play in upward of 100 games. He won't be needed that often if he's only going to platoon against lefties. That will help keep him on the field.
Ruiz has a $4.5 million option for 2017. The Los Angeles Dodgers could decline that and make him a free agent. Or, as Rosenthal reported, they could trade him.
No matter how a team acquires Ruiz, it figures to be via a low-risk avenue. Say, spare parts in a trade or on a one-year contract worth less than his option.
7. Kurt Suzuki, C, Free Agent
With just a .704 OPS in 2016 and a .683 OPS for his career, Kurt Suzuki's value is not in his bat. With sub-20 caught-stealing percentages the last two years, it's not in his arm. With routinely below-average framing numbers, it's not in his glove either.
Rather, Suzuki's value is his dependability. He's generally good for 100 games in the crouch. You take what you can get from a guy like that. To that extent, it's actually a positive that, while it's not good, his offense isn't terrible. The 33-year-old should be able to keep it up in a short deal.
Suzuki's dependability comes from his durability. He's been on the disabled list only once in his career, a rare feat for a catcher several years into his 30s.
Of course, catchers can be durable right up until they're not. And with over 1,100 starts at catcher on his record, Suzuki's durability could indeed be near its breaking point.
After making $6 million per year in each of the last three seasons, Suzuki is likely poised for a salary bump in free agency. The going rate for steady veterans has been $4-5 million per year over two years, but he could get $7 or $8 million per in a similar deal.
That's not a lot of money in today's MLB. And while Suzuki's not an especially talented player, his reliability would make it money well spent.
6. Brian McCann, C, Trade
Source: Mark Bowman of MLB.com
Brian McCann was solid in OPS'ing .752 with 46 home runs in 2015 and 2016. The catch is how much help he got from Yankee Stadium, putting up an .811 OPS there and a .693 OPS on the road. With his age-33 season on deck, there's also the question of how much longer he can be an everyday catcher.
Still, McCann at least has value as a veteran-presence type. He's also still useful when he does catch. Per StatCorner's metrics, he was one of the top strike framers in baseball in 2016. Past his prime though he may be, he's still a good guy to have on a roster.
McCann's 1,510 career games include 1,310 starts in the crouch. Along the way, he's racked up an injury history about as long and daunting as James Joyce's Ulysses.
The worst may be behind him, however. McCann has played in at least 130 games three years in a row. The Yankees made that happen by giving him spot starts at first base and DH. Wherever he goes next, more of the same could keep him on the field in the final two years of his contract.
Bowman's article only cites the Atlanta Braves as a possible suitor for McCann. Because the Yankees would have to eat some of McCann's contract in order to move him, there may well be more suitors.
The downside? The Yankees won't eat any of McCann's contract unless they get worthwhile talent in return. It won't be top-tier talent, but giving up any talent for a player of McCann's caliber would create some risk.
5. Derek Norris, C, Trade
Source: AJ Cassavell of MLB.com
On the bright side, Derek Norris ended up with pretty good framing numbers at the end of 2016. But everywhere else, he was bad. Just...bad. He posted a career-low .583 OPS with a huge strikeout rate. He also threw out just 21 percent of base stealers and allowed 51 passed balls and wild pitches.
The hope for prospective suitors is that a move to a contender would inspire Norris to get back to his All-Star form from 2014. And if nothing else, they can hang their hat on his bad splits against lefties in 2016 being an aberration that will correct itself. Given that he's only 27, either hope has merit.
This is where Norris is doing just fine. His 125 games played in 2016 make it three years in a row he's played in at least that many. And most of these games (358) have come in the crouch.
Norris' youth and clean injury history are two good promises that he can keep this up in his final two years before free agency.
Cassavell is right about Norris being expendable now that the San Diego Padres are poised to install Austin Hedges as their everyday catcher. Trouble is, Norris has little trade value after 2016. Further trouble is, teams won't be quick to trust general manager A.J. Preller following the controversy over the team's handling of medical information.
As such, Norris can probably be had on a very, very discounted price in a trade. Given his bounce-back potential, teams should go for it.
4. Jason Castro, C, Free Agent
Jason Castro had an All-Star breakout in 2013. Since then, he's put up just a .660 OPS as he's increasingly struggled with strikeouts and, most recently, the shift. He's also not a traditional strong-armed catcher, throwing out just 26 percent of would-be base-stealers for his career.
Now 29, Castro is best looked at as a solid half of a catching platoon. He has a .753 career OPS against right-handed pitching. And per StatCorner's metrics, he once again rated as an elite strike framer in 2016. Provided he's used the right way, these things will help him earn his keep.
The early portion of Castro's career was marred by right knee problems. He's remained relatively healthy ever since his 2013 breakout, averaging 116 games per season. This is in part because he hasn't been tasked with everyday duty.
As such, his 617 career games aren't much mileage for a catcher heading toward his age-30 season. Provided he's kept in a non-everyday role, Castro should keep playing in north of 100 games per season.
Castro isn't an especially sexy option, but there could be heavy interest in his services now that the catching market no longer features a healthy Wilson Ramos. He should also come without ties to draft pick compensation, as he'd be a candidate to accept the qualifying offer if he gets one.
As for what a light-hitting, strong-framing catcher like Castro could get, Francisco Cervelli's three-year, $31 million extension with the Pittsburgh Pirates could be the model. A deal like that would make sense in this market but would probably be an overpay in the long run.
3. Matt Wieters, C, Free Agent
After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014 and struggling to find his form in his return in 2015, Matt Wieters looked more like himself in 2016. He cranked 17 home runs and was the bane of opposing baserunners. He gunned down 35 percent of base stealers.
There are things for buyers to beware, however. Wieters' production was boosted by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where he had a .740 OPS to buoy an unspectacular .711 overall OPS. And as per usual, his strong arm didn't come with good framing. He thus has more name value than actual value at this point, and the disparity should only grow as he gets further into his 30s.
It was hard to take Wieters off the field between 2010 and 2013. It's gotten easier in the last three seasons. His Tommy John surgery was obviously a factor, but even a fully recovered Wieters played in just 124 games in 2016.
And unlike other catchers his age, it's hard to see Wieters' next team rushing him into first base or DH duty. He's going to stay in the crouch. His durability could thus be an ongoing concern.
Wieters is a candidate for a qualifying offer, but the Baltimore Orioles may hesitate to give him one after he accepted it last winter.
Regardless of what happens, Wieters is going to be the most attractive catcher on the open market. That doesn't mean he'll get Russell Martin or Brian McCann money ($80-plus million over five years), but he's likely looking at a long-term contract worth $12-15 million per year. That'll be a lot for a catcher who's not actually that good.
2. Stephen Vogt, C, Trade
Source: Connor Byrne of MLB Trade Rumors
Stephen Vogt was an All-Star for a second straight year in 2016, but it was still a disappointing year after his 2015 breakout. His OPS fell from .783 to .711, and he wasn't much of a presence on defense. He was average (28 CS%) at throwing out runners and, per StatCorner, rated as a poor framer.
But the 32-year-old still has qualities for teams to gravitate toward. Vogt is durable and versatile, having played in over 130 games each of the last two years and playing some first base when he hasn't caught. And with a .759 career OPS against right-handed pitching, he's at worst a good platoon hitter.
Catchers headed for their age-32 seasons usually come with great big red flags where their durability is concerned. Vogt is the exception to the rule.
For one, he's remained healthy since becoming a key member of the Oakland A's a few years ago. For two, he comes with little mileage. He's played in just 422 major league games, and only 241 of those have been starts at catcher. He's good bet to stay healthy in his final three years before free agency.
Vogt's name has been a constant in trade rumors in recent seasons, and now he's up for arbitration for the first time. Byrne was right to touch on the possibility of him being moved this winter.
Unfortunately for Oakland, Vogt's value is lower now than it was after 2015. But he's still a cheap and talented catching option in a market that has few of those. The A's could probably get one good prospect back for Vogt. For his new team, more of the same would be enough payoff.
1. Wilson Ramos, C, Free Agent
Wilson Ramos couldn't have had worse timing when he tore his ACL in late September. He was due for a huge free-agent payday after putting up an .850 OPS and 22 home runs in a breakout 2016 season. Now the market for his services is up in the air.
Ramos won't be out forever, though. His six-to-eight-month recovery time will allow him to return sometime next season. And at 29, it bodes well for him that he's still relatively youthful. Rather than damaged goods, teams can view him as a strong-armed (34 career CS%) catcher with a dangerous bat. In other words, a rarity.
Ramos' youth is indeed a positive, but he can still expect teams to take a close look at his right knee. It's now undergone two serious operations. Elsewhere, teams could also take issue with his history of hamstring injuries.
Put simply, the guy's pretty beat up for a catcher who hasn't even hit the big 3-0 yet. Whether in a long-term contract or a short-term contract, his durability is a question mark.
Since Ramos may not be back healthy until the middle of next season, it doesn't make sense for him to seek a one-year "prove it" deal this winter. By that same token, the Washington Nationals will probably stop short of offering him the $17.2 million qualifying offer.
Not being tied to draft pick compensation would make it easier for Ramos to find the four-to-five-year deal he desires, as Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reported. But that may be a stretch in his current situation.
Rather, he may be forced to settle for a two-year deal that would allow him to get back on his feet and reenter the market after his age-30 season in 2018. Given his high upside in even one healthy year, that could be a good deal for everyone.