Chicago Cubs: Who slots in behind Willson Contreras in 2018?
Alex Avila and Rene Rivera are both gone. So who do the Chicago Cubs employ as their backup catcher next season?
What’s the one thing every MLB team covets the most? The one thing that makes all the difference in the world? The one golden asset that separates the big boys of the league from the bed-wetting plebeians of the league? That’s right, you guessed it – a solid backup catcher. The Chicago Cubs are going to have to figure out who that is this winter.
Behind every great pitcher is a great catcher. And behind every great catcher is a predominantly average backup catcher. I think Winston Churchill said that. Anyway, we don’t necessarily know who the Chicago Cubs will turn to for that role.
I know you’re all struggling to contain your excitement. Few topics in baseball are as exhilarating as backup catchers. So let’s have a look!
Free agent market
Before we look at the in-house options, let’s look at the free agent market. And oh boy, this year’s catcher market is full of ancient relics. Of the available players who actually played last year, Alex Avila is the youngest at the ripe age of 30. Jonathan Lucroy is a close second at 31. As far as his bat is concerned, Lucroy took a bit of a step backwards this season. Most catchers do when they reach their thirties, and hitting isn’t their number one priority anyways.
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But Lucroy still has plenty left in the tank, and he’ll most likely be signed to be a starting catcher wherever he ends up. So scratch him off the list of possibilities.
Moving on. Chris Iannetta is an intriguing option. Iannetta, 34, is fresh off a comeback season where he improved not only offensively, but defensively as well. He may be a bit overqualified to be reduced to a backup role, but if the Cubs can make a run at him, they should.
Familiar free agents
Another option on the market? Why, it’s our old friend Miguel Montero! The obvious advantage here is that Montero has caught nearly everyone on the Chicago Cubs’ pitching staff. But the 34-year-old didn’t leave on the best of terms. There may still be some animosity there. Rule No. 1: Never sign a backup catcher who has beef.
Rene Rivera was a late addition to the Chicago Cubs’ roster, mostly as an emergency option, but also to give Contreras and Avila an occasional rest day. He only played in 20 games for the Cubs, but he was surprisingly effective when he was on the field. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him sign a short-term deal with the team.
Lastly, we have another familiar face in Alex Avila, who was acquired by the Cubs at the July trade deadline. Shockingly, Avila ended up being the more valuable piece in the Cubs’ trade with the Detroit Tigers, as Justin Wilson immediately forgot how to throw a baseball when he arrived in Chicago. Avila will most likely look for a destination where he can be a starter again, but the Cubs should make him an offer regardless.
Home is where the backup catcher’s heart is
Victor Caratini is the homegrown option. Over the course of five seasons at different levels in the minor leagues, he has slashed .289/.369/.426. Caratini is great because his name makes you think of an orange, carrot-flavored cocktail. Only instead of an olive and lemon twist, he’s garnished with a sweet goatee and some prime Louisville Slugger lumber.
The problem is Caratini could be a popular trade candidate this offseason. He’s only 24 years old and currently ranks sixth among all Cubs prospects. It’s not difficult to see Caratini starting for a number of different teams, so it might be in the Cubs’ best interest to see what they can get for him.
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The backup catcher is the backbone of a team. Not really, but they’re still sort of important and the Cubs need to find one. Willson Contreras is like a young Yadier Molina, but better because he’s a Chicago Cub and not a St. Louis Cardinal. In the interest of preserving his knees and his arm, Chicago will need to lock down a solid backup. Happy hunting, front office.