2016 Position Preview – Catcher

Brad Miller, Robinson Chirinos

We continue with our position preview with the backstop. Catcher has been something of a rotating door over the years for the Rangers, seeing the likes of A.J. PierzynskiGeovany SotoJ.P. ArencibiaTomas Telis and others squat behind the plate since the departure of the recently-returned-and-since-departed Mike Napoli.

At one point in Rangers’ lore, Jorge Alfaro was slated to be the next Texas backstop stud. Such high hopes were derailed by an ankle injury and a lack of development and progression in the minors. Eventually, Alfaro would be dealt to the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies as part of a package for Cole Hamels.

  • Week 1: The Rotation; Catcher
  • Week 2: First Base; Second Base
  • Week 3: Third Base, Shortstop
  • Week 4: Left Field, Center Field
  • Week 5: Right Field, The Bench
  • Week 6: The Bullpen, The Coaching Staff

In 2015: The Rangers had come off of 2014 wanting to upgrade at catcher. It’s not that incumbent Robinson Chirinos hadn’t proven himself as anything but above his value as a backstop, but the concerns were that he couldn’t shoulder the physical duties of a full season behind the plate. Jon Daniels wasn’t going to be spending big on this position and really just needed someone who could spell Chirinos a couple of days a week. Enter Carlos Corporan.

Corporan was traded to the Rangers after spending the previous four seasons as the Astros’ backup catcher. The production that Texas got from “Corpy” was really less than what he had given the Astros over the years. Still, he served as a decent enough backup catcher who did his job and got along with everyone in the clubhouse and had a good rapport with the pitching staff.

The injury bug that bit the Rangers so hard in 2014 seemed to follow them into 2015 as Chirinos went down with a shoulder injury at the start of August and Corporan had already been sidelined with a sprained ligament in his thumb. That resulted in the Texas catching tandem of Chris Gimenez, who had been with the Rangers in 2014, and Bobby Wilson, yet another Tampa Bay Rays cast-off catcher (keep track, that’s three former Tampa Bay catchers that Texas owns).

Gimenez once again proved his worth to the club as a more than solid, more than capable, surprising to many backstop. He posted a slash line of .255/.330/.490, including a career high of five home runs in his 36 games with the club. Gimenez’ worth behind the plate was also rewarded, as he quickly developed into new ace Cole Hamels’ personal catcher. Wilson was decent enough as a catcher, but also found himself at the plate in some of the situations where a hit was needed the most and came up short more times than not. With a slash line of .221/.291/.325, Wilson was the second half equivalent of Corporan – exactly what the Rangers needed out of a back-up catcher. Wilson was left off of the Post-Season roster in favor of the recently returned Robinson Chirinos.

In 2016: Daniels once again went shopping for a catcher to compliment Chirinos, except this time, he was looking for a definitive power upgrade at the position, potentially resulting in the replacement of the 31-year old as a full-time backstop. More on that later, though.

Instead of a big trade for a top-of-the-line power catcher, Daniels instead created an internal competition for who would get to open the season with Chirinos in 2016. Wilson was re-signed to a minor league contract. Gimenez’ contract, although one signed to avoid arbitration, is a split-contract – basically meaning that Gimenez will earn one salary as long as he remains on the active 25-man Major League roster and a lesser salary if he ends up in the Minors.

The outside Wild Card in the catching competition came two days before the New Year, in the form of former Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Michael McKenry. “The Fort” (a nickname bestowed upon him by the Pirates announce team), is really anything but that behind the plate. He represents depth and a better promise for power than the other three (disclaimer: That’s not saying a lot). Having a catcher in the system who worked under Jeff Banister while in Pittsburgh helps his case tremendously.

The battle here will be for the backup to Chirinos, who almost certainly will start the season as the team’s primary catcher. Expect the others to remain with the club as depth in the event likelihood of an injury.

From the Hot Stove: The power-hitting, everyday catcher that JD had looked to acquire this off-season was the Milwaukee Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy. The 30-year old All-Star catcher had problems staying on the field last year, but put up excellent offensive numbers in his prior two seasons with the Brew Crew. Bringing him to Arlington might have merited a 15-homer, 75-RBI output from the right-handed backstop, along with a great defensive reputation. He would also come at a definite team-friendly cost, as he will earn $4 million in 2016 with a $5.25 million team option to follow. He is certainly worth more than the dollars he will earn, so it seems right that the Brewers’ asking price would start with Joey Gallo. With that prospect price tag attached, the Rangers aren’t in dire need to acquire Lucroy and the Brewers aren’t in dire need to move him. Milwaukee has already conceded the next couple of years, at least, as losing seasons, so not only are they not motivated to move one of their main attractions, his asking price is unlikely to come down.

The “Richard Durrett” Three Questions at this position:

  1. Who enters the season as the backup for Robinson Chirinos?
  2. How steep a price are you willing to pay for a catcher of Jonathan Lucroy’s caliber?
  3. Should Texas look to upgrade at this position?

Next week: we’ll go after the right side of the infield – first base and second base.

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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

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