In late December, our fearless leader Danny Russell and Dock of the Rays' Jason Hanselman each took a look at the possible catching options for the Rays behind Rene Rivera and Curt Casali in the last month. Since then, Ben Zobrist was traded to the Athletics (Eliminating our chances of landing catching phenom Andrew Susac), and Geovany Soto was signed to a minor league deal with the White Sox. The options are wearing thin.
The Rays may believe that they don't need to add another catcher, but Rene Rivera started 103 games for the first time in his journeyman career in 2014, after only starting in 23 games in 2013. The Rays do have Curt Casali, but he only started in 30 games last year, and isn't a very good replacement option if Rivera becomes injured.
Earlier in the offseason, the Rays signed Bobby Wilson to a minor league contract, but he has started less than 200 major league games total since 2008. John Jaso could catch in emergency situations, but as Matt Silverman has already said, Jaso will join the Rays as the "third catcher" to keep him healthy and to avoid concussions.
With the free agent market quickly drying up, let's take a look at other possible catching options that might be available for the Rays.
Wellington Castillo - CHC
With the trade for Miguel Montero, and now the signing of David Ross, Castillo seems like the odd man out. Even with a down year, Castillo posted a .302 wOBA and a 91 wRC+ for 2014. Jason Hanselman from Dock of the Rays noted that Castillo could hit at an average rate for the catching position, which would be an improvement for the Rays at that position.
However, according to Baseball Prospectus, Castillo is one of the worst at pitch framing. He rated 102nd at framing pitches for extra strikes, costing the Cubs 9.2 framing runs in 2014. StatCorner doesn't like Castillo either, only converting 6.8% of pitches outside the zone into strikes, totaling about 2 calls per game that went against the Cubs while he was catching.
Framing is something that the Rays could work with him on but I wouldn't expect a great increase, and it is a glaring issue that cannot be overlooked. Based on the Rays' high value of defensive metrics, I can't see them trading for Wellington Castillo.
Martin Maldonado - MIL
This is one of my favorite targets, but also might be one of the toughest to pry away from the Brewers. Maldonado just signed a two year deal with Milwaukee for $1.95 Million to avoid arbitration and doesn't become a free agent until the 2017 season.
In 52 games, Maldonado posted a .316 wOBA and a 97 wRC+, although this is due to a small sample size. Steamer does project Maldonado to regress a bit, playing in only 44 games with a .283 wOBA and a 75 wRC+. Power-wise his numbers are pretty good, having never posted an ISO lower than .142 for every year of his MLB career except 2013, where he posted a .115.
Maldonado also posts above average defense, scoring 8.4 framing runs for the Brew Crew, and gaining an extra 56 strikes over 2014, according to Baseball Prospectus. StatCorner agrees, saying he saying he was able to convert 9.4% of balls outside the strike zone into strikes, which is good for sixth among all catchers in 2014 with a minimum of 1000 pitches received. The others above him include former Rays beacon Jose Molina, and current Rays starter Rene Rivera. Additionally, StatCorner believes that about 1.64 calls per game went in favor of the Brewers when he caught, and Maldonado was rated as a slightly above average blocker per Baseball Prospectus.
The biggest obstacle with the Rays acquiring Maldonado from the Brewers would be a lack of depth on Milwaukee's side at the catcher position. Besides Johnathan Lucroy and Maldonado, the next catcher they have on their 40-man roster is Juan Centeno.
Centeno has played a total of 14 games in the MLB for the Mets, and was claimed by the Brewers this past October off waivers. The only piece the Brewers have been looking for is a bullpen upgrade, and I think the asking price may be too high for the Rays' liking.
Sandy Leon - WAS
Sandy Leon might be the most realistic trade option for the Rays as a second or third catcher. He posted unimpressive numbers in 2014, with a .210 wOBA and a 27 wRC+ in 20 games for the Nationals, but that is with an absurdly low .209 BABIP. Washington already have a solid back-up in Jose Lobaton, and they recently acquired David Butler from the Red Sox. Leon is the odd man out.
Leon was pretty average in framing pitches according to Baseball Prospectus, not adding or taking away any framing runs for the Nationals last year, but that is due to a very small sample size.
Leon has great upside in his contract, controllable through the 2020 season, and doesn't become arbitration eligible until 2017. Leon is no guarantee, and isn't highly touted on MLB.com or Baseball America. Furthermore, he has yet to be really proven at the MLB level, but FanGraph's Marc Hulet had this to say about Leon in 2012:
Leon is known as a glove-first catcher but his bat began to show signs of improvement at high-A ball in 2011 and that continued over into 2012 with his assignment to double-A. He posted a wRC+ of 89 in 2011. Leon is a switch-hitter and he offers more potential while swinging from the left side.
There is not much that Leon doesn't do on defense. He is a great receiver, he calls a solid game and he isn't afraid to get down and block pitches. The young catcher has an average arm in terms of strength but it's accurate and he does a nice job of controlling the running game.
The fate of Leon comes down to the confidence that the Nationals have in Wilson Ramos' health. If Ramos can stay healthy in 2015 (the last time he had more than 400 Plate appearances was 2011), then I can see the Nationals parting ways with Leon for cash considerations or a low end prospect.
Erik Kratz - KC
Erik Kratz was already mentioned in the links above, but I think is worth mentioning again. Kratz has bounced around the league between the Phillies, Blue Jays, and just recently the Royals, but his contract is choice.
A big upside is that Kratz is still controllable through 2018. Steamer projects a 88 wRC+ for 2015 with a wOBA of .297, and that is only with 122 PA and a .262 BABIP. He has pretty good framing and receiving skills according to BP, adding 3.8 framing runs for the Royals last year. StatCorner is a little bit down on Kratz, having a little under 1.0call per game go against the Royals while Kratz was catching in 2014. He is 34 years old, which might play to the Rays advantage if they decide to work out a deal with the Royals.
J.P. Arencibia - BAL
I am also going to bring up J.P. Arencibia. He just recently signed a minor league deal with the Orioles even though they already have FIVE catchers on the 40-man roster. From the report:
His low-OBP, high-strikeout approach yielded a steady diet of ~20-home run campaigns, but reached an extreme in his final year in Toronto, when he managed only a .227 on-base percentage while striking out 148 times and walking only 18 times in 497 turns at the plate.
It was much the same last year in Texas, where Arencibia scuffled to a .177/.239/.369 slash with ten long balls in 222 plate appearances.
From a defensive standpoint, Arencibia has prevented base stealing at a roughly league-average clip throughout his career (26 percent). He's also typically graded out as a plus pitch-framer, according to both Baseball Prospectus and Matthew Carruth's Framing Report at StatCorner.com.
That last slash line resulted in a measly .270 wOBA and a 77 wRC+. Not impressive at all, but if he does not make it on the 25-man roster come Opening Day, the O's might look to shed one of their five catchers at a low price for the Rays.
Is there anyone else you would like the Rays to go after?
You can follow Jared on Twitter @Jaredsward.