With the news that Evan Gattis will be the team’s primary DH in 2018, the Astros will be looking for a backup catcher to pair with Brian McCann.
An ideal complement to McCann is a right-handed hitter who can spell him against tough left-handed pitchers. Another necessity will be strong defense, especially when it comes to throwing out baserunners.
McCann threw out just 13 percent of those attempting to steal in 2017, while Gattis only threw out 10 percent. McCann’s career rate is 25 percent, so some improvement from him may seem likely. Still, there’s every reason to find a strong-armed backup.
One clear internal option is Max Stassi, who is out of options, so he would have to pass through waivers if the Astros send him to the minors next year. Stassi has posted a .253/.318/.405 line in 89 plate appearances with Houston while gunning down 31 percent of base stealers.
This is admittedly a small sample size. For his minor league career, he threw out 27 percent of base stealers. While this is an improvement over the Astros’ abysmal rate in 2017, it’s nothing to be overly excited about. His .266/.383/.473 line at Triple-A last year is solid. He may not hit for a high average in the majors, but he’s a right-handed hitter with some power.
Juan Centeno is also an option, but he hits left-handed and has thrown out just 13 percent of baserunners in his major league career. If the Astros go with an internal option to fill this spot, Stassi is likely the guy.
There’s also the possibility the Astros find a catcher from outside the organization. With that in mind, here are a few potential fits on the free agent market. I’m only considering those who would represent an improvement over Stassi.
Lucroy is on the list because it’s been reported that the Astros have shown interest in him. Despite that, I don’t see this one working out. Lucroy will likely want a starting job, and other teams are bound to offer him more playing time than what he would get in Houston. Unless his market completely craters for some reason — or the Astros trade Gattis — there doesn’t seem to be a fit here.
Castillo may also be looking for a starting job, but he would be an ideal candidate for the Astros. He popped 20 homers last year with a .282/.323/.490 line and threw out 49 percent of base stealers. That number would likely regress toward his career rate of 33 percent, but he’d be the perfect complement to McCann. Still, the Astros may be in the same boat with him as they are with Lucroy.
Hundley may be a more realistic candidate. He threw out 29 percent of baserunners last year while slashing .244/.272/.418 in 303 plate appearances. The 34-year-old may be more amenable to a part-time role than Lucroy or Castillo, and he’d be a solid veteran addition to the team.
Iannetta’s value lies primarily in his offense. He hit .254/.354/.511 last year for Arizona and has hit double-digit homers in six separate seasons. He threw out 24 percent of baserunners last year and may be open to a part-time role as he enters his age-35 season. If so, he would be an improvement defensively over Gattis without losing much in the way of offense.
Rivera may be the least expensive option among these, and he’d likely be fine playing second-fiddle to McCann. He slashed .252/.305/.431 last season with 10 homers, so he has a little pop in his bat. More importantly, he threw out 37 percent of base-stealers, in line with his career rate of 36 percent, and has a career .991 fielding percentage.
If the Astros don’t want to spend a lot and are intent on giving both Gattis and McCann plenty of at-bats, Rivera may be the best option. Other candidates on this list could end up siphoning at-bats from both, but would also represent a solid addition in one area or another. Whether the Astros decide to stick with Stassi or find some outside help, there’s no shortage of options.
***Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference***