The Minnesota Twins are rumored to be in pursuit of a backup catcher. With two catchers seemingly on the roster already, what could this mean?
The Minnesota Twins entourage has arrived in Orlando, FL for the Winter Meetings. For the most part, it has been a slow day for Twins rumors and news but one interesting piece of information came out as Jon Heyman tweeted this:
The Twins are apparently interested in a backup catcher. In all reality, the Twins are a tag on to a tweet here that is mainly about the Rangers but Heyman must be hearing something which means it just might mean something, right? If the Twins are pursuing a backup catcher that does raise a few questions.
What about Mitch Garver?
When Chris Gimenez was allowed to leave the Twins earlier this offseason the assumption was that Mitch Garver would be the 2018 backup catcher. While Garver struggled in his first taste of the big leagues hitting .196/.288/.348 in 46 at-bats, his minor league numbers (.291/.387/.541 and 17 home runs) give a sense of confidence in Garver’s eventual ability to hit in the majors.
If Garver learns to hit in the big leagues he looks like a perfect compliment to the left-handed hitting starting catcher Jason Castro. Garver also has the flexibility to play some games at first base on Joe Mauer‘s off days. He was also given some opportunities to try to learn the corner outfield spots in the minors, but there didn’t appear to be the confidence in him defensively to play him there in the majors. While the Twins didn’t use him positionally there in 2017 they may be willing to revisit Garver as an outfielder during spring training for added flexibility.
If Garver isn’t a lock for the backup catcher position, who else is available?
Looking at the free agent market for catchers, there simply isn’t a whole lot out there. Especially a catcher that fits the Twins needs for a backup catcher. Welington Castillo may have been an intriguing player to have conversations with but he has already signed with the Chicago White Sox. Jonathan Lucroy was for many years one of the best hitting catchers in baseball but will still likely be looking for a starting role. The last real “front-line” name is Alex Avila, but with a Twins offseason focus on pitching he may simply be too expensive and doesn’t really profile well to compliment Castro.
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There is then a drop off to another tier of catchers whose price tag should at least fit the Twins budget for a backup catcher. Geovany Soto appears to be the best at hitting lefties with a .283 career average and .308 average last season with the White Sox. There is also the likes of Carlos Ruiz, Chris Stewart, and Hector Sanchez but none of them look like a real upgrade over Garver. There is also always the possibility of a reunion with Rene Rivera who is a capable backup and can go through hot streaks with his bat.
Trades and Rule 5 Draft
There is always the chance that the Twins have their eye on a catcher they could acquire via trade. At the writing of this post, there didn’t seem to be any major rumors surrounding any backup catcher trades (imagine that). With the Miami Marlins in a near firesale mode, it would appear J.T. Realmuto could be had for the right price. Realmuto had a solid season in 2017 hitting .278/.332/.451 with 17 home runs. It seems it would be hard here to find at-bats for both Realmuto and Castro, but having too much talent at a position is a problem most managers would like to have to figure out.
Backup Catcher is also a good position to try and hide a Rule 5 draft pick at. Exactly like the Cincinnati Reds were able to do with former Twins backstop Stuart Turner. Our own Benjamin Chase highlighted such a guy in his Winter Meeting Primer. Toronto Blue Jay catcher Max Pentecost has struggled with injuries but fits the profile of a right-handed power bat that can play catcher, first base, or be a bat off the bench and could be a target of the Twins.
It is ultimately impossible to tell at this point what the Twins front office is looking for if it is actually pursuing a backup catcher. It is possible they are simply pursuing a catcher that can report to spring training to give Garver someone to compete with instead of simply handing him the backup catcher job. Another possibility is the front office views Garver as a trade chip. With no real answers, it is simply time to sit and watch as Falvey and Levine are hopefully spinning some magic down in Orlando.