One of the few bright spots in the Chicago Cubs’ 2013 season was the emergence of catcher Welington Castillo, who exceeded expectations both behind the plate and at the dish, offensively. Despite his emergence, several reports indicate that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will target top catching talent during the offseason.
According to Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors, several agents have informed him that the Cubs will spend good money on a free agent backstop this offseason. Despite what he’s heard, Dierkes says that the organization is very high on Castillo and will, at the most, pursue a backup catcher. Castillo platooned with Dioner Navarro this season, but with Navarro headed toward the open market, it’s unlikely he resigns with Chicago due to the fact that after his impressive ’13 campaign, he’ll get better offers that include more playing time.
Navarro, 29, hit .304 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs in just 89 games, slugging a career-best .492 for the Cubs. The former American League All-Star provided a switch-hitting bat off the bench for Chicago, but as mentioned, will likely seek other opportunities this offseason.
Potential free agents that could draw the attention of the Cubs include Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, AJ Pierzynski and Carlos Ruiz. Reports from Tom Loxas of the Loxas Factor indicate the Cubs are seeking a left-handed catcher, a qualification that all but Ruiz fit from that list.
McCann, for obvious reasons, stands head and shoulders above the rest. He re-emerged this season as one of the best run-producing catchers in all of baseball and worked with a young Braves pitching staff, leading them to the postseason and their first National League East crown since 2005. Saltalamacchia is a name that hasn’t been linked to the Cubs, but could provide an interesting fit for the late-twenties backstop. He regained much of his former potency this season with Boston, clubbing 14 homers and driving in 65 in 121 games. He also slugged a career-high .466 for Atlanta.
The Texas Rangers are rumored to be planning a heavy pursuit of McCann, which is no surprise given the likely departure of Pierzynski. Texas missed out on the postseason and lost its second consecutive American League West title to the Oakland Athletics, so the front office will likely be busy this offseason.
Pierzynski is a long-shot for me personally, simply due to the fact that he’s entering his age 37 season. That’s not to take anything away from the former Chicago White Sox catcher, it’s just a fact. The organization is looking for long-term success, not a flash in the pan who can provide for one or two years.
Perrsonally, I agree with Dierkes. Castillo showed real promise in 2013 and the money could be better spent shoring up a spotty rotation in 2014. That being said, it wouldn’t be the first time Epstein pulled the trigger on a deal no one saw coming. This will be one of the storylines to keep an eye on as the offseason progresses. But like I said, expect Castillo to be the starter moving forward in 2014.