Well maybe the Cubs don't really need a new catcher...? (UPDATES)

Well maybe the Cubs don't really need a new catcher...? (UPDATES)
Beef is what's for dinner! (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

There’s been a scarcity of news lately when it pertains to our Chicago Cubs, but we can start with this one as an old favorite, Henry Blanco, is back:

 

It’s a good thing, because for whatever reason, ever since the Cubs lost out on Russell Martin because the Toronto Blue Jays went insane with their bid, and even before that, fans were clamoring for an upgrade to Welington Castillo at the catching position.  With Hank White in tow (he’s also bilingual!), a new in-house mentor for Beef could help improve his catching skills and the Cubs won’t have to go outside the system to try to snag another catcher.

For one, I think Welington Castillo can be a perfectly good starting catcher, especially at his price tag.  For his first time through arbitration in 2015, the folks at MLB Trade Rumors projected Beef to earn about $2.1MM, which is extremely affordable for the production that he can provide.  The last season was a disappointment offensively, but given his previous MLB track record and what he’s shown in the minors, I believe that the BABIP will normalize a bit and Beef can be at least league average offensively, while continuing to provide solid defense despite the concerns about pitch framing.  My lying eyes suggest that Beef is solid at blocking pitches, calling a good pitching game and picking off base runners.  Paying $2.1MM or so for a two-win catcher is a ludicrously good deal.  (Short update: Kevin Gallo, a friend of the blog and a scouting expert, disagrees and we definitely respect his opinion!  Read here.)

For another, I believe the Cubs have a decent backup in house already (no, it’s not John Baker).  Rafael Lopez is on the 40-man roster anyway, bats left-handed, and though his bat is light-powered compared to most, he can still get on base well in terms of his OBP-AVG split (mostly from the minors because we only have a brief call-up last season to look at) and from what I can tell, he actually looks like he knows what he’s doing behind the plate.  He is pre-arbitration so he’ll only cost the league minimum.  It’s difficult to say whether he can handle MLB pitching on a regular basis, but since Beef is the starter, he wouldn’t have to shoulder the bulk of the innings anyway.  

My idea is to use Lopez as the backup and to spell Beef on regular rest days as well as against tough righties.  Between Beef and Lopez, we have a quasi-platoon that should be at least league average, could provide at least 2.5 wins, and will cost less than $3MM.

This brings us to various rumors, one of which I pondered in bringing Jose Molina to Chicago.  With Hank White in the fold now, that’s probably not necessary, and since Jose’s bat is complete crap anyway, we can put that idea to rest (though I wouldn’t mind).  The other major rumor is regarding the Cubs’ communication with the Arizona Diamondbacks about trading for Miguel Montero.  I don’t know who contacted who, but I echo Andy’s thoughts from season’s end:

Montero is signed through 2017, with salaries of $12M in 2015 and $14M in both 2016 and 2017.  Three years and $40M for an aging catcher on the decline is a terrible use of salary cap flexibility.  Considering the Cubs were unwilling to resign Dioner Navarro after 2013 when he got 2 years and $8M, it is massively unlikely they add a $40M platoon catcher.  The financial cost also does not address the cost of acquiring him.  Any team interested in acquiring him would have to absorb his contract or deal away legitimate prospect or more for the Diamondbacks to eat some of the salary.

I agree with the principle of having at least some option to set up a platoon advantage in the catching corps, but I don’t like the idea of bringing in an expensive catcher who isn’t…that good.  If the Cubs are going to use a catching platoon, they can do it on the cheap with the setup I proposed above.  I wouldn’t be devastated if the Cubs did a reasonable trade for Montero, but I simply don’t think it’s necessary.  I don’t even think the Cubs need a veteran backup catcher, per se, because Beef has been at it for the bulk of the past three seasons and has handled it well, and Hank White can be a good mentor.     

 

UPDATE 11/23 5:45 AM: Welp…today is my mother’s birthday, and the kid apparently has gastroenteritis according to WebMD and my own observations of his very crappy day thus far.  Which is why I’m awake at this ungodly hour (nobody should have to be unintentionally awake before 7 AM on a Sunday!) and seeing a few random tweets:  


To this I say “meh” because while I’m sure Hank White will have some input, I feel like the front office will take everything I’ve said above about Montero into account and then some (because they’re hopefully much smarter than I) and avoid him unless the deal is super favorable, i.e. they won’t have to give up much more than, say, Jeimer Candelario to make the D-Backs pick up the bulk of Montero’s salary. That’s pretty much the only scenario where I would welcome a Miguel Montero trade, is if Arizona can’t sneak into the top 20 of the Cubs’ system (I don’t think they will) and also will have to pick up 85%+ of that contract. Otherwise, just do the Rice plan for the Beef/Lopez catching tandem. Ta-da!

There’s also…Yasmani Grandal?

 

Now Mike Petriello is a very smart guy and that’s why I’m linking to this:

When the Toronto Blue Jays made their somewhat surprising move to add Russell Martin, they didn’t just weaken the free-agent catching market. They decimated it. Sure, you could probably piece together a decent backup from guys like Geovany SotoNick Hundley or David Ross, but there’s no one close to being a full-time starter. Of the remaining free agents, there’s not a single one who’s even projected to manage even a lowly .300 OBP in 2015, according to Steamer projections.

This is a major reason why the Cubs may be exploring the Montero trade, though it is important to note that Montero was also below average offensively despite posting a decent OBP last season.  But Petriello is suggesting that Grandal could be a better trade target and I tend to agree, though Grandal’s backstopping may need a ton of work.  I also don’t like this part before the paywall:

The Cubs might need to stick with Welington Castillo, who’s coming off a poor season.

I really don’t like the baseball world thinking that Beef is damaged goods because bad offense in one year + bad framing + whatever.  Beef isn’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination despite the anemic bat last year (a bat that still produced 13 homers) because he is still very valuable as a defensive catcher.  I mean, even with the abysmal framing numbers that people talk about where Beef costs pitchers a billion called strikes a game, he’s still rated favorably on defense which still makes him a valuable commodity, especially at the projected $2.1MM price tag.

Which doesn’t mean that the Cubs shouldn’t try to trade for Grandal, though.  Buster Olney did make a good point about Hank White being a mentor, but in this case I’d like him to be a mentor to Grandal, not Montero.  Grandal, as you recall, was one of Josh Byrnes’ last good trades when he shipped Mat Latos to Cincinnati in return for a package originally centered around Yonder Alonso (this was just after Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod left San Diego for the Cubs in 2011).  Grandal again needs work to improve on defense, but the bat has huge potential; ignore the poor batting average and consider that he can hit from both sides, takes his walks (even his 2015 Steamer projection shows a walk rate north of 10%) and has similar power as Beef.

Obviously with Grandal not even arbitration eligible until the 2016 season, this potential upgrade would cost more than a Montero trade would, but if the Cubs aren’t as comfortable with a Beef/Lopez tandem as I am, that’s something to be considered.  The Padres have benefited from trading with Chicago before as they received a future ace in the oft-injured-but-still-not-sucky Andrew Cashner.  However, Josh Byrnes is gone and I know very little about new GM A.J. Preller, but I’m assuming that most of the other 29 GMs are salivating at what Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have in the Cubs system.  I’m now curious to see whether a favorable trade package for both sides can be constructed, though I still feel that if the Cubs are going to make a trade, they’ll be more likely to find either pitching or a veteran outfielder.

UPDATE 6:17 AM: Well Peter Gammons is still up, and he gave us another good one:

 


My feeling is that…yes, it should matter, because he’s a catcher and although the bat is enticing and on the brink of breaking out, Grandal is playing arguably the most important defensive position on the diamond and would control several things, including the running game (which he hasn’t shown he’s that good at).  The article does provide a bit of food for thought on the matter, but I’m not convinced that Grandal’s bat is so good that it will significantly outpace his shortcomings on defense.

UPDATE 11:10 AM: The news that the Houston Astros may consider trading Jason Castro and Dexter Fowler has changed the dynamic a bit.  Jason Castro is younger than Montero and despite a down year with the bat, he graded favorably on defense…and he bats left-handed.  2014 suggested that J. Castro swung a bit too much at crappy pitches, which decreased his normally decent walk rate and increased his strikeout rate; the BABIP suffered as well.  With two more years of club control left, the Astros are obviously expecting something significant in return, so it’s hard to tell if the Cubs will pull the trigger.  However, if given a choice between Montero and J. Castro, I pick the younger cheaper guy who has more of a bounceback potential.  It might also be good for the Cubs, who would be able to sell new Starlin Castro “S. Castro” shirseys and also “J. Castro” merchandise.

Fowler is an interesting case, and I don’t necessarily think a package deal is necessary, but he is a switch-hitter and batted well last year, displaying very strong on-base skills.  Playing exclusively center field, he graded poorly on defense, so I wonder if the Cubs will shift him over to left if they trade for him and use Arismendy Alcantara in center field.  2015 is Fowler’s final year of arbitration eligibility, so the trade return would be slightly depressed but not too much as his bat is pretty good, though his stats may possibly be skewed due to playing in hitter-friendly environments…which is probably not bad if he comes to Wrigley.  Fowler also didn’t have a terrible home/away split last year, hitting well against most opponents in multiple venues.  Fowler may also provide some veteran leadership that the Cubs are looking for to supplement their young hitting core, though the Cubs have been rumored to be looking at Jonny Gomes, who would only cost money and serve as a platoon guy in left field with Chris Coghlan or whomever the Cubs decide to keep around.

 

What do you think?

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  • You have to question Buster Olney when he thinks the Cubs hired Blanco to make it easier to trade prospects for an over-priced and declining Montero who would be a platoon player for us. In addition, when has a team ever made coaching decisions based on non-full-time starters?

    As if the Cubs need yet another high strikeout hitter on its major league squad. That would make 9 Cubs who as full-time players would strikeout more than 100 times per season. This is in addition to Rizzo, Castro, Valbuena, Castillo, Baez, Alcantara, Bryant and Russell. And Soler is right on the edge, but we won't count him.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    I agree that Montero is not ideal.

    I don't actually know how the strikeouts will look next year, but I'm guessing there will be some improvement as players adjust. Pitchers certainly have an advantage these days and that has led to a rise in strikeout rates. Rookies in particular can be exploited, especially when they're super young like the Cubs' guys.

  • In what sense did you mean the term "crappy day?" Sort of like the French General who was wearing a red shirt and brown pants?

    In the meantime, if Boston ever believed in value, that seems to have gone out the window today. So, the question will be whether Theo had deep enough pockets to outbid his former employer, on about every FO.

  • In reply to jack:

    Well, the boy was quite ill and also used the bathroom a lot...

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