Houston Astros: Best free agent fits for backup catcher position
Here are five free agent catchers who the Houston Astros could sign to be their backup.
Of all the Houston Astros needs this offseason, the outfield and the bullpen are rightfully commanding most of the attention. But not to be forgotten is the backup catcher spot, which at this point remains open. Martin Maldonado figures to be the starter again in 2021, but Dustin Garneau is no longer with the team.
The Astros do have Garrett Stubbs on the roster, but his lack of significant major league action seems to relegate him to the role of third catcher. Especially given the fact that there’s almost no depth behind him, the front office seems likely to add a veteran to take Garneau’s place and split reps with Maldonado.
The ideal candidate would be someone who’s a solid defender and who provides a nice complement to Maldonado. Garneau only threw out 18 percent of would-be base stealers while making four errors and posting negative defensive ratings in 2020. Combine that with his meager .562 OPS and you’ll see why the Astros decided to move on.
Offensively, Maldonado has historically hit better against lefthanded pitchers, with a career .672 OPS against them compared to .641 against righties. That split was even more pronounced in 2020, as he mashed to an .869 OPS against southpaws and .661 against righties. So ideally the Astros will want a catcher who hits righties better.
As far as the role, it will certainly be bigger than the role Garneau had in 2020. Maldonado started 46 games at catcher while Garneau started only 13, and he only started once in the playoffs. With a presumed 162-game schedule coming up, the Astros are probably looking for someone who can make it closer to a 60-40 split. So without further ado, here are five good fits for this role.
Astros fans already know Castro, who was the team’s first round draft pick in 2008. He played his first six major league seasons in Houston, earning an All-Star nod in 2013. His bat hasn’t been very good since then, but he’s proven to be a solid, if unspectacular, defensive backstop. Houston is already known to have interest in a reunion, so it makes plenty of sense.
What helps is that Castro is a lefthanded hitter who has a .749 career OPS against righties as opposed to .553 against lefties. He wouldn’t start against every righthanded pitcher, obviously, but he can take some of those starts from Maldonado and should do just fine. This might be the ideal pairing for Houston.
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This is another similar fit. Avila is also a left handed hitter who has a career .773 OPS against righties compared to a .618 mark against lefties. He turns 34 in January and was an All-Star in 2011, so he could likely be had on a relatively cheap one-year deal similar to Castro. Defensively he’s been solid as well, with 5.9 career defensive WAR and a 30 percent caught stealing rate.
At 28, Wolters is the youngest option available on the free agent market. He was non-tendered by the Rockies after posting only a .550 OPS in 2020, but the lefthanded hitter does have slightly better numbers against righties (.647 OPS) than lefties (.627 OPS). He offers virtually no power at the plate but is a decent defender who could hit for a respectable average.
Despite being a right-handed hitter, Zunino has historically hit righty pitchers (.672 career OPS) better than lefties (.640). He turns 30 in March and will hit for some power, with three 20-homer seasons to his name, but will struggle in the batting average department and strike out a bunch. After hitting only .161 with 13 homers in two seasons in Tampa Bay, he should come cheaper than the $4.5 million option the Rays declined earlier this offseason.
Chirinos doesn’t have the lefty-righty splits like these other options, so there’s not an obvious platoon situation here with Maldonado. But he would bring a familiar face back to the clubhouse after putting together a solid 2019 season in Houston. He’s 36 and coming off a bad 2020 season, but the Astros surely wouldn’t mind having him back.