The Chicago Cubs have officially lost Willson Contreras this off-season as he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals this past week. However, that was expected and there was some hope when they announced their interest in Christian Vázquez. That hope was wiped away today when Vázquez signed with the Minnesota Twins on a three-year deal. Vázquez seemed to be the Cubs' top target this offseason behind the plate. Missing out on him hurts, but there was speculation and even some dreams from the fan base that they might try to trade for Oakland Athletics catcher Sean Murphy. Those dreams were just shattered today because Murphy was dealt to the Atlanta Braves in a three-team trade that included the division-rival Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs will have no Contreras, no Murphy, and no Vázquez this upcoming season. Now the only question is who will be the Cubs' backstop in 2023?
Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic (subscription required) mention Tucker Barnhart being someone the Cubs have an interest in. Barnhart is a two-time Gold Glove award winner, but offensively, he is nothing special. Barnhart has a career slash line of .245/.320/.360 with 52 home runs and 277 RBI in 9 years at the MLB level. Last season was Barnhart's first out of Cincinnati and he struggled. He hit just .221 with only 1 home run and 16 RBI in his 94 games played for the Detroit Tigers. That type of production offensively will not get it done no matter how good a player is defensively. Is he the catcher Cubs fans want? No, probably not, but it does seem like he is the fall back option now that they missed out their main targets.
Omar Narváez is another catcher on the Cubs' radar. Narváez has spent the last three seasons with Milwaukee where he has played respectable defense. However, his hitting numbers were not great. Last season, Narváez hit .206 with an OBP of .292 while slugging .305. As a left-handed bat, he could mix in well, and platoon against right-handed pitching, but there is some hesitation because of his lack of offensive production. It is important to note that he was an all-star in 2021, and before joining Milwaukee in 2020, he only had one season where he hit below .270.
As it stands right now, the Cubs have two catchers on their 40-man roster. One of those catchers is prospect Miguel Amaya. Amaya, 23, played just 40 games in 2022 because of a Lisfranc injury in his foot that required surgery. He also had to undergo Tommy John in the 2021 offseason, so his injury history with him is a concern. NBC Sports Chicago offered an update on Amaya in November, and it seems like he will be ready for spring training. This is good news for the Cubs and their number 16 prospect, but there is no reason Amaya should start the season in the big leagues. He needs more time in the minor leagues to not only develop, but also get healthy and play a full season. Yan Gomes is the other catcher. The 11-year veteran played his first season for the Cubs in 2021. He played in only 86 games while hitting .235 with 8 home runs and 31 RBI. He is a solid backup, but by no means should he be the starter because there are simply better options out there. Even if the Cubs see Gomes as a starter, Amaya is not ready for the MLB, so the question is being repeated; who will the Cubs bring in to play catcher this off-season?
The Cubs also have P.J. Higgins on their roster, just not as a catcher. Higgins does have a background in catching, though. Higgins played in 74 games last season, with 24 starts behind the plate. In his 201 at-bats, Higgins hit .229 with 6 home runs and 30 RBI. Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for the MLB and he was able to capture this quote from Cubs GM Carter Hawkins,
"“P.J. did a really good job as well and is a guy that we feel really strongly is a great member of the team. And we definitely would feel comfortable with him as the backup to Yan, if that's where we end up.""- Carter Hawkins via Jordan Bastian
This shows how content the Cubs are not signing a catcher. They have filled some other needs, but catching was one of the big ones heading into this off-season. With the loss of Contreras, the Cubs' front office had some big shoes to fill, and it just does not seem like they are keen on filling them. After missing out on Murphy and Vázquez, the Cubs might look to fill the catching position internally rather than through free agency or trade.