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Looking At: The Still Available Free Agent Catchers (Post-Chirinos Injury)

After Robinson Chirinos has gone down with a fractured right wrist, the New York Yankees are in need of some catching depth to back-up Gary Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka. Luckily, there are a good amount of catchers who could fill this role, at the budget, quite well.

 

The Factors to Consider:

There are three things the Yankees should need to consider before trying to sign any new catchers for this season:

How much they are going to cost?

Will they accept playing at/taking an option to Triple-A?

What is their recent injury history?

The Yankees are currently a little over $6 Million short of the $210M luxury tax threshold (before they reach the penalty levels), and if they sign a player who is going to look to make any decent amount of money from this it will severely impact their abilities to bring in a player at the trade deadline. They also need monetary space in case a bonus clause was reached during that season, thus any new 3rd-string catcher needs to come in on a cheap contract. (Although, there are ways around this.)

They will also need the new catcher they are bringing on to be willing to accept that they will be likely playing in Triple-A for a good portion of the season. This is likely a hard obstacle to climb over, but given that we are looking at catchers who are still free agents a mere 2 weeks out of the season, they may prefer to get on a team and hope their play helps them secure an MLB roster spot. (There are also ways around this as well.)

Finally, recent injury history speaks for itself. The Yankees have found themselves in this tricky situation because they had a Robinson Chirinos go down with injury (although not his fault) and Gary Sanchez has spent time on the IL/DL every season but 2020 since 2015. They need to find someone who looks to have a healthy season.

Does anyone fit this criteria? Let’s see!

 

Tyler Flowers:

Reviews come mixed on Tyler Flowers depending on who you ask. Baseball-Reference gives him just +0.7 bWAR since 2018 while Fangraphs gives him +3.0 fWAR over the same period. However, this is largely due to BBREF rating Flowers as a decent defender (career +3.0 dWAR), while Fangraphs sells him as a very valuable defender (career +147.4 DEF).

It is also true that he has not been a great hitter over the past three seasons, putting up a cumulative triple-slash of .227/.329/.382 (.712 OPS) with a 86 OPS+ (or 90 wRC+) around 20 Home Runs and 69 RBI’s. But, he has done this while splitting a lot of time as a part of a platoon which helps the Yankees in looking for a depth piece. A right-handed hitter, he is also going into his age-35 season but he could be an option if the Yankees believe in his defense.

It’s hard to evaluate our 1st and 2nd points (we’ll get to ways around them at the end), but for now looking at his recent injury history is pretty good. Over the past 3 seasons he has been on the IL just twice, once in 2018 for a left oblique injury which kept him out for nearly a month. The other stint was for 5-days after experiencing flu-like symptoms this past season while testing negative for COVID-19.

Ethan’s Take: I’m a homer for Tyler Flowers as he has a special place in baseball lore for me and my dad, so I’m 100% in on the Yankees trying to coax him to joining the team as a 3rd-string catcher. No bias, I think he’s a good defender who can hold down offense in case something bad happens and could do so on a cheap deal.

 

Matt Wieters:

He’s the only switch-hitting catching option still available and Yankees fans should clearly remember Wieters from his time with the Balitmore Orioles from 2009 to 2016 where he won 2 Gold Gloves and made 4 All-Star Teams. However, one thing going against him is that no YouTube highlight videos of him have been made since he was a Baltimore Oriole.

Wieters is the epitome of a replacement player at this point in his career, which has continued to drop since his Tommy John Surgery in 2014. Over his past three seasons, Wieters has played in 162 games across Washington and St. Louis (where he backed up Yadier Molina) and hit to a .226/.304/.386 (.690 OPS) with a 82 OPS+ (and 83 wRC+). During this time he’s also produced +0.9 bWAR and +0.1 fWAR.

On the injury front, Wieters twice ended on the IL in 2018 with a left oblique strain and left hamstring strain, and again in 2020 with left toe contusion. Combine that with the Tommy John surgery and he is a big injury risk.

Ethan’s Take: While there was a point in time where the Orioles had a premier catching prospect in Wieters, and he was incredible in the early 2010’s, that story is long gone. I wouldn’t want to take a flyer on him.

 

Is There Anyone Else?

While there are a few other interesting names out there, as one would and should expect most of the catching talent that is MLB-viable has been signed already. Of the other names available two are former Yankees (John Ryan Murphy and Jesus Montero), but neither has any true reason to bring them back.

Of the other available names, many provide weak defense and weak offensive profiles as they end up far below the value of Flowers and Wieters from their MLB experience and hope that they still have something left to prove. If you’re interested in the complete list, check out this Spotrac link, here.

 

The Loopholes:

As I addressed, signing either of Flowers or Wieters comes with navigating two hard to estimate factors in terms of cost and ability to send them to Triple-A. And while it’s impossible to know what either would be looking for (if anything) at this point in their careers, there are ways to get around the luxury tax and allow the Yankees to have some more depth going into the season.

When it comes to contracts, the Yankees have shown there is a way to get players on cheaper deals by setting up different options as they did with Brett Gardner and Darren O’Day. Gardner counts as $2.575M against the luxury tax while O’Day counts as $1.575M. This is because the Yankees gave each a contract with a player option for 2022. What this means is that the guaranteed money each player is getting in 2021 ($5.15M and $3.15M) can be shared amongst all their guaranteed seasons, lowering their average annual value (AAV). Doing this allows the Yankees to offer a bigger contract in total sum to a free agent, while taking a much lower luxury tax hit. (On this same vein, a Minor League contract with MLB incentives could also work to keep costs down.)

When it comes to dealing with Triple-A, the Yankees can always include opt-outs at different points in the season if a player was not brought up to the MLB team (or is not on the 40-Man Roster). These types of deals often get sent to aging veterans and journeymen in baseball who can spend a Spring Training with one team before getting picked up by another at some point during the season. Offering a minor-league contract with cut-off sometime after the season begins and when extended Spring Training is soon to be over (let’s say at the beginning of May) would allow a player to showcase his skills and allows the Yankees to have some extra “just-in-case” depth.

 

Article By: Ethan Semendinger

Date Published: March 17th, 2021

#Catchers #TylerFlowers

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