Consider this. Seattle catchers collectively hit .190 with a .595 OPS this year. Even though the MLB-averages for backstops in both categories are relatively low (.229 AVG/.697 OPS), there is definitely room for improvement in the Emerald City. With this in mind, I identified a pair of free agents who could potentially bolster the offense.
Yes, you can go to any website that lists pending free agents and find more than two catchers. But I performed my search presuming the Mariners intend on Cal Raleigh being the starter in 2022 – at least at the beginning of the season. That means no big names or players who still want to be a starter. Perhaps my approach will be proven wrong. But that is the I direction I have chosen.
Assuming the Mariners take the approach I just described, or are even interested in adding a new catcher, the team would likely want someone amenable to starting just a few times a week. This player should not be too long in the tooth in case Raleigh was lost for a few weeks. That excludes backstops in their late-thirties.
With that, let us turn our attention to the catchers I found. Please note the age you see on the following tables reflect how old players will be on July 1, 2022.
Selling points: Gomes is not going to wow fans with his average-ish conventional stat line. But he has proven capable of providing consistent offense from the catcher position. Just compare his 2021 conventional slash line and OPS+ to his career production numbers.
A sneaky good aspect of Gomes’ offensive production that I find promising was captured with a metric from Baseball Savant – xwOBA.
Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should have happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) does not influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing.
Gomes’ .337 xwOBA was eighth best among 30 catchers with 250-plus plate appearances. Since xwOBA is a reflection of the quality and quantity of contact made by hitters (or allowed by pitchers), the one-time All-Star can definitely help a team’s offense next year.
Defensively, the metrics like Gomes’ work behind the plate. The veteran receiver accrued 5 defensive runs saved (DRS), which was top-15 among backstops with 300-plus innings this season. Statcast rated him as an average framer.
Potential concerns: Adding a catcher entering his age-34 season is certainly risky. Perhaps age-related regression explains the drop in Gomes’ first-half .760 OPS to .663 for the remainder of the season. Did he wear down or did the drop in offense have something to do with moving to Oakland at the MLB trade deadline?
On that note, Gomes is ineligible for the Qualifying Offer because the Nationals traded him in-season. Realistically, he would not have received the QO anyway.
Thoughts: Some Mariners fans would not be excited by the signing of a player of Gomes’ ilk. But the Sao Paulo, Brazil native’s presence would present an opportunity to improve run production received from the catching position.
Selling points: In some ways, Piña is similar to Gomes – a player with the potential to improve catcher offense. That said, Piña rates better than Gomes defensively.
Piña accrued 7 DRS tying him with former Mariner Mike Zunino, despite the fact Zunino caught 400 more innings. The Venezuelan also rated as a better-than-average pitch framer giving him the edge over Gomes in that category.
Potential concerns: Piña is the same age as Gomes. So, there is that. Furthermore, the eight-year veteran only played in 75 games with 208 plate appearances with the Brewers in 2021.
Piña’s struggled at the plate early in the season. But the right-handed hitter did clobber six home runs with a .834 OPS over the final two months of the season. Granted, it was in a backup role covering only 28 games.
Thoughts: In a limited role, Piña could potentially help the Mariners. But it is tough to tell how much he could play in the event of an injury to the starter. His career-high for games played is 107, which happened in 2017.
Gomes possesses a more distinguished career record than Piña, which makes me prefer him for the Mariners. On the other hand, Dipoto could choose to stick with the catching duo of Raleigh and Tom Murphy. Perhaps Luis Torrens is also thrown into the backstop mix. Torrens appeared in 35 games behind the plate, but none after July 9.
Regardless of the path that the Mariners take, the team must receive more production from its catchers. Yes, offensive expectations for the position should be tempered. But a low bar does not justify being a bottom-dweller in league rankings.
Especially for a team with postseason aspirations heading into next year.
My Oh My…
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