While the Hot Stove has yet to rise above tepid, one area where there’s some activity has been in the land of backstops. The White Sox snatched up the best catcher on the market in Yasmani Grandal, and Atlanta responded quickly to lock down...Travis d’Arnaud, a 1.6-win catcher per fWAR (1.0 per bWAR) who was DFA’d by the Mets earlier last season. As you might have inferred, the FA catcher market is suboptimal; Atlanta also re-upped with their second catcher, defensive whiz Tyler Flowers. That leaves Yan Gomes, Robinson Chirinos, and Jason Castro as the most desirable names atop a raft of defensive specialists and backups.
The Mariners actually had the luxury of the second-best catching duo in the AL last season by fWAR, fourth overall and the last of the “most valuable” tier before things fell off a cliff (from five wins to three-something), and with the team poised to not-compete again next year, perhaps we should have expected this news sooner:
Amid the early and heavy movement in the catching market, one name in trades keeps coming up: Omar Narváez. The Seattle Mariners have shown a desire to move him, sources tell ESPN, and a deal could be completed soon. Narváez really can hit. His glove remains a major question.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 25, 2019
Thanks to Tom Murphy, technically-can-catch Austin Nola, and Cal Raleigh on the near horizon, the Mariners can afford to part with their bat-first catcher. There are a whole host of teams that could use Narv while absorbing his defensive limitations. Let’s take a look at some potential landing spots, ranked from less likely to more likely.
Less likely: The AL West
Annoyingly, the division with the most teams who could use a catcher is our own. The Astros had the best performance out of this group, at 12, by dint of being the Astros, but Chirinos and Maldonado are both free agents and the system doesn’t have any MLB-adjacent catchers unless you are a big Garrett Stubbs fan. Everyone else in the division ranked in the bottom third of MLB, with the Athletics coming in at 22, and the Angels and the Rangers both getting negative production out of the spot (the Rangers ranked dead last in baseball). The A’s have the best long-term situation of this crew, with talented rookie Sean Murphy ready to make his full-season debut, but could still use the pop Narváez would provide as Murphy gets accustomed to the bigs in order to keep them competitive with a slightly less-loaded Astros team. The Rangers and Angels both have their own reasons for going for it in 2020; the Rangers have a shiny new stadium that would look bad half-empty every night, and the Angels need to Win With Mike Trout Already.
In-division trades are tough, but we could see a path to a Rangers trade, as Dipoto has already dealt with the Rangers FO on multiple occasions, and the Rangers have a farm system that’s more broad in talent than tilted towards superstar players.
Almost certainly not, John: The New York teams
Putting this one in here as a nod to John, whose recent move to the state of New York has unfortunately resulted in him picking up the malaise afflicting many NY residents, a belief that the world begins and ends at the borders of the Empire State. Here’s John’s reasoning: sure, both teams have offensive-first catchers already, but Narv is an immense low-cost upgrade over either team’s backup, and with Gary Sanchez showing some propensity for injury, Narv could step in wherever needed, while also potentially holding down 1B/DH duties. Also, in a direct act of violence towards noted Noah Syndergaard supporter and fellow staff writer Matthew, John says, and I quote: “I would like the Mets to trade for him only to see Noah Syndergaard’s brain explode realizing it can get worse than Wilson Ramos.” New York has hardened you, John. Both these options feel like selling low on Narv to teams that actually do have decent-enough catching situations, offensively speaking. Let the two of them duke it out over the services of Martin Maldonado.
Maybe?: Washington, San Diego
Washington had the option to bring back Yan Gomes but opted not to pay $9M for the privilege of doing so. They could still sign Gomes back for less and continue to platoon him with Kurt Suzuki, but neither of these options excite the spirit. Narv would be an immediate offensive upgrade over either of those two, and the chaos muppet in me just wants to see him catch Max Scherzer. San Diego has a Hosmer-shaped block at first base and no DH spot in which to stash Narv, but he’d be an excellent companion to defense-first Austin Hedges and insurance in case a young Francisco Mejia falters, although they’ll likely stick with that catching duo in 2020.
Solid fits: Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Colorado, Tampa Bay
Here we have a delicious intersection of desperation and opportunity. All of these teams are competitive or competitive-adjacent, and all of them need catching. Milwaukee led the league in catcher value last year but just lost out on the player who led them there, thrusting their catching situation into uncertainty. Narv would be an excellent complement to defense-first Manny Pina and could hold things down until bat-first catching prospect Mario Feliciano, who spent 2019 at High-A, is ready. Similarly, the Reds have an MLB-adjacent prospect in Tyler Stephenson but their primary catcher last year was a defensively plus but noodle-batted Tucker Barnhart. The NL Central currently feels like it could be anyone’s division, and the team that has the best off-season will put themselves in the best position to make a run at the title.
Sticking in the NL, Colorado remains a puzzle. Are they going for it? Are they rebuilding? Are they very, very sorry they gave up on Tom Murphy? The answer to that last question, at least, we can answer, as the Rockies ranked near the bottom in WAR out of the catching position in 2019. With a thin free agent class and nothing resembling a catcher in their farm system, the Rockies should be all-in on Narváez if they intend to compete this year. Any defensive shortcomings will be more than made up for by Narv’s offense, as his moonshot style of hitting would play excellently at Coors.
Tampa Bay might not want to trade with the Mariners for catchers anymore after Mike Zunino cratered despite being back on familiar Florida (astro)turf, but their DI (Desperation Index) is even higher than any of the other teams on this list. As mentioned above, they’ve lost out on d’Arnaud, who was merely d’ecent, and despite a farm system that is river-deep and mountain-high, it’s surprisingly thin on catchers. The Rays are in an excellent position to contend in the AL East with Boston reeling, and have the prospect capital to make almost any deal work. (While we’re in the AL East: I left Toronto off this list as a team that isn’t necessarily looking to compete in 2020, but would certainly hear arguments for why they should be.)
They say the best time to look for a job is when you have one, and similarly, the best time to try to trade your controllable, offense-first catcher is when you don’t really have to. Passan’s tweet makes it sound like a deal is imminent, but without even having team names in the mix, it’s hard to know how far along talks might be. It’s definitely a situation to monitor, though, especially because you know Dipoto, for all his talk, has to be getting a little restless at this point: