Ghost Of Rule 5’s Past: A Candidate At Catcher?
By Andy Singer
Photo Credit: Abbie Parr, Getty Images
We have discussed the fact that the Yankees have holes all over the infield well beyond the point of exhaustion this offseason for good reason – it’s a real problem! Despite that reality, I find it interesting how all of us that follow the Yankees (myself included) really stopped looking for viable catching candidates really early in the offseason. As poor as Gary Sanchez played in 2021, he was still one of the best 20 catchers in baseball according to most publicly available WAR calculations, speaking to just how barren the catching ranks are in today’s game. Thus, once a couple of the subpar Free Agent catchers signed early in the offseason, most of us just wrote off doing anything at catcher until sometime in the future. Maybe it’s the January doldrums that have me seeing things, but I think that all of us have ignored some very decent trade candidates on the open market that could help make the catching position as a whole better this year.
It’s been awhile since I’ve played the blind player assessment game, but now seems like a pretty good time to resurrect the exercise. Below are statistics for 3 players from 2021, all of whom are catchers. Which one do you want?
Player A: .243/.299/.431, .730 OPS, 102 OPS+, 15 HR, 26.2 K%, 7.4 BB%, 1.0 bWAR
Player B: .181/.246/.389, .635 OPS, 71 OPS+, 10 HR, 28.0 K%, 8.1 BB%, 0.4 bWAR
Player C: .266/.326/.477, .803 OPS, 13 HR, 26.2 K%, 8.5 BB%
We have less information about Player C, but he is pretty clearly the superior player. Player B is pretty clearly the worst offensive player, but from the WAR calculation, we can surmise that defense must be helping him, otherwise his WAR would be ugly on offense alone. Player A has a little bit of everything going for him.
By now, you’ve probably noticed that we don’t have as much information about Player C. OK, I tricked you a little bit. Player A is Luis Torrens. Player B is Kyle Higashioka. Player C is Luis Torrens following his return from a roughly one month demotion to AAA on June 15th. From June 15th on, Luis Torrens was one of the best offensive catchers in baseball while playing average-ish defense.
The peripherals back up Torrens’ performance. He was well above-average in Average Exit Velocity (90.9 MPH, 79th Percentile), while also ranking above-average in max exit velocity, barrel rate, and chase rate (which gives me a lower level of concern regarding his strikeout rate). In short, minus some fringy defense with the arm and framing, Torrens looks to be a good package at this point.
Most importantly, the Mariners are reportedly ready to wheel and deal this offseason as soon as the CBA negotiations clear up, and the rumor is that Torrens is one of the players they might look to move. Torrens is currently blocking one of the Mariners’ top catching prospects, Cal Raleigh. Raleigh is poised to be an offensive threat, but needs to be paired with a defensive specialist catcher, which the Mariners already have in Tom Murphy. The Mariners are looking to shake up the roster to set it up for this season and beyond, and though they may have uncovered a diamond in the rough in Torrens, they would likely deal him now to better round out the roster.
Beyond the romanticism that comes from acquiring a former top prospect who left the system too soon, Torrens makes real sense for the current Yankee roster. The Yankees need a catcher that can legitimately push Gary Sanchez for playing time, and as much as I like the way Higgy frames and blocks, he’s not the answer at catcher. Torrens could very easily push Sanchez, and more interestingly, probably still has some growth left behind the plate. Torrens remains a very athletic catcher who blocks the ball reasonably well, so it is likely that he can become a better framer with coaching.
I think one of Cashman’s first calls after the lockout ends should be to the Mariners for Luis Torrens. The Yankees really can improve the catching position this offseason.