Chicago Cubs: Did last winter cost the team a chance at success?

(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs: Looking for a more prominent veteran backup catcher

Veteran backup catchers can be great. They can provide wisdom and experience behind the plate, in the club house and the dugout. A veteran backstop can help mentor to younger catchers by showing them the importance of pitch framing, technique and when to call certain pitches.

The best example is David Ross in 2016. That year, he provided a veteran presence in a young club house. Willson Contreras did his best job by far of framing pitches in 2016, his rookie year. Was it because of Ross and Miguel Montero‘s presence on the roster? In the last at-bat of his career, Ross hit a home run in Game 7 of the World Series. Later that night, he got carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates as a World Series champion.

But you know what else veteran backup catchers tend to be? Old. In 2018, Chris Gimenez only hit .143 on just four hits in 28 at bats. Even Ross hit only .176 in 2015.

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Victor Caratini‘s time in the Majors seems to have arrived. Toward the end of the season he appeared to be playing better defensively. Maddon showed more confidence in him by playing him more often and regularly pairing him with Cole Hamels. The possibility of having a switch-hitting, versatile catcher, who can play at least one other position on the bench is intriguing. Caratini might also be so much more valuable to another team that the Cubs end up trading him away.

Either way, the Cubs will once again be in the market for at least one backup catcher. That individual will either serve as Contreras’ big league backup or wait in the wings at Triple-A Iowa. Last offseason, the front office had better options than Gimenez.

For a brief period of time there were rumors that Alex Avila might take a backup job on a winning team. After the Cubs traded for Avila in 2017, there was at least the flirtation that if Avila was going to be a backup for a winning team why not stay on the one he finished the 2017 campaign with. But Avila ended up signing with the Diamondbacks to be their starting catcher.

Rene Rivera also finished 2017 with the Cubs. He played well during his limited time in Chicago (.341 in 44 at-bats). Rivera then went on to hit .244 for the Angels in 2018. Rivera’s contract cost also about three times more ($2.8 million) than Gimenez ($950,000).

By choosing Giminez, the front office was trying to have the best of both worlds. They wanted to have a veteran backup catcher available on the roster. They also didn’t want any obstacles preventing Caratini from possibly establishing himself at the big league level.

The former also signed a minor league contract, while Rivera did not. So the Cubs had the option of starting the season with Gimenez in the minors, which they ended up doing.

If Caratini isn’t traded, the Cubs will once again be looking for a veteran backup catcher they can stash away in the minors. Let’s hope they either don’t need this veteran catcher to play at all or if he does, he plays more like Ross in 2016 rather than like Gimenez did in 2018.