Astros: Dustin Garneau poised for season after solid spring

Dustin Garneau could have a surprisingly good season as the Houston Astros backup catcher.

When the Houston Astros signed Dustin Garneau earlier in the offseason, it was met with little fanfare. Fans were clamoring to find out who the starter would be and whether the club would bring back Robinson Chirinos or Martin Maldonado, so Garneau’s signing was met with disinterest.

Even though he was only brought on to compete for the backup job, he quietly put together a solid 2019 season. He posted a .757 OPS in 35 games split between the Angels and A’s, which is good for slightly above-average performance according to the OPS+ metric. That small sample was worth 0.9 WAR.

He made just one error, allowed one passed ball and threw out 32 percent of would-be base stealers, which was above the league average of 27 percent. So he played solid defense and displayed a little bit of pop in his bat, which is an ideal combo for a backup catcher.

Strong Spring

It’s another small sample, but in 10 games in Spring Training, Garneau hit .235/.409/.471, good for an .880 OPS. Now that high of an OPS is probably not sustainable, so it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect him to suddenly become an All-Star at age 32. But he could provide some sneaky good value.

His career numbers don’t give much reason to think he’ll supplant Maldonado as the primary backstop. 2019 was the first time he’d posted an OBP above .300 and slugged over .400 in any major league season (with the exception of 2018 in which he only appeared in one game). He’s a backup and will most likely remain so.

But if he can show that 2019 was no fluke and put together a batting average in the .230-.240 range, draw a few walks, blast a few homers and play solid defense, he’ll be more than worth the $650,000 he’s scheduled to earn for 2020.

Of course there’s no way of knowing when the season will start or how long it will be, so there’s plenty of uncertainty here. But the regime of former GM Jeff Luhnow appears to have found some sneaky good value in Garneau.