The Rays moved decisively to address their deficiencies behind the plate with three additions this off-season in top free agent Wilson Ramos, Mariners back up Jesus Sucre — who was recently impressed both Chris Archer and Kevin Cash — and most recently Derek Norris, a glove forward catcher capable of starting for the club.
These three are now battling with Curt Casali and Luke Maile for roster spots and roles with the team to kick off the season. While all five of them are talented, there are only so many spots to go around and we already know Norris has one locked down.
The other spot will eventually go to Wilson Ramos who is recovering from the knee surgery he had in late 2016. Estimates have him being back as early as end-May (mostly as DH) and as late as July, with the latter being more likely when it comes to catching.
In the mean time, someone needs to play the first half behind the plate, and it remains an open competitiin camp.
The Casali Angle
There are a few things working against Casali in this case, with the first major issue being the need for a 40-man roster spot for someone like Norris or Rickie Weeks, who the Rays seem to be set on keeping on roster coming out of spring training.
Another issue is that his performance at the plate in 2016 showed an inability to limit strike outs (32% SO%) or to make enough noise at the plate (67 wRC+) to make his roster spot worthwhile.
Then we have the fact that Chris Archer seems to really have taken to Sucre, who would also need a roster spot. And speaking of roster spots, do the Rays really want to carry 5 catchers once they add Norris and Ramos returns? Not likely.
The notes above make it likely that one of Maile or Casali is moved, but which one?
Maile vs Casali
When we compare Maile to Casali, there are a few items that fall in each player’s favor. For Maile, they include health, being 2 years younger, with a contract that offers team control for a longer period of time, and having a cheaper salary, as he is not yet arbitration eligible - something that’s important as the Rays face the task of signing 17 arbitration eligible players pre-2018.
Where Casali moves ahead of Maile is in the Baseball Prospecrus FRAA ratings (2.3 vs 1.3) for framing (4.1 vs 1.2 actual).
Meanwhile, Maile holds an edge in blocking (0.1 vs -1.3) and Maile did show better accuracy and a quicker first step. Both showed similar arm strength in 2016.
But the items that place Casali ahead of Maile on the pecking order, such as those listed above and the 5.8 DRS as compared to Maile’s 3.6 DRS, also make him more marketable and valuable on the trade market!
His defensive profile combined with upcoming raises as early as 2018 and some recent health issues (highlighted below), make him the more likely player to be moved.
Casali’s 2016 Struggles and Spring
Casali’s chances of making this year’s Rays roster were in doubt as early as last August 2016, when the Rays claimed Bobby Wilson off waivers and optioned Casali to Durham.
As stated in the MLBTR post noting the move:
Casali, 27, has displayed some pop this season with seven homers and seven doubles in 207 plate appearances, but he’s hitting just .169/.255/.322 on the whole and has punched out in exactly one third of his plate appearances this season.
To be fair, Casali did make a return in September and showed fairly well at the plate, albeit in a tiny sample size. He hit .268/.348/.415 through his 46 end-season plate appearances and improved his SO% slightly, down to 26.1%. That was good for a 112 wRC+ over that stretch.
So far in 2017’s Spring Training, though, he hasn’t done much to regain the confidence of the Rays brass, managing a .200 avg and .306 OBP through 30 AB. Although spring stats don’t mean much, in his case they could have contributes to the front office adding another option like Norris.
With this in mind, the Rays are shopping Casali as a possible way to open up a roster spot.
You can brush up on his background here since we mostly want to focus on what is Casali’s trade value is and where he may be a fit.
So what is it that they’re offering other teams? And what is Casali’s trade value?
Casali’s Trade Value
In truth, it’s somewhat difficult to sell highly on a player that hit .186/.273/.336 during a season that saw him get the most PA of his career (256). But it gets easier when you look at his defensive abilities (2.3 FRAA and 4.1 Framing Runs in 2016), and add his splits vs LHP (.233/.309/.438 with 7 XBH in 81 PA).
Those are the two areas where a team could see potential value, along with the fact that he managed to add 1.1 WAR in 2015 despite seeing limited playing time (113 PA) after hitting 10 HRs that season.
Digging deeper into his performances vs LHP, the Rays could point to his increasing hard contact rates from 28.6% (‘15) to 34.8% (‘16) and simultaneously increasing his FB rate from 42.9% (‘15) to 47.8% (‘16). His ISO against LHP is also impressive at .310 in ‘15 and .203 in ‘16.
What will drive down his value are his results vs RHP which were a .164/.257/.289 line and .125 ISO with a 31% SO% in 2016. He was worst with RISP, .137/.290/.216 through 63 PA (tiny sample, but hurt the team’s chances of scoring runs at opportune times). Casali also struggle mightily vs RP, hitting .148/.274/.247 (98 PA).
Casali’s health is also somewhat of a question mark, with issues including concussion, TJ surgery, and hamstring injuries checkering his past. A video on his concussion recovery in 2016 is included at the bottom of this post.
The struggles vs RHP, vs RP, and with RISP essentially make Casali a catcher that can be a good option when facing a LHP starter and off-the-bench vs a LHP RP, but not a go-to option for an everyday role, framing aside.
How much value that holds in MLB today is debatable, but the pluses here include the ability to rest their primary catcher, and to be able to do so when facing LHP if that catcher struggles against LHP.
Curt Casali Possible Trade Partners
Financially speaking, he hasn’t been arbitration eligible yet and will be arb 1 in 2018, making him controllable through 2021 at minimal costs. That makes him affordable by any team’s standards, which is a good thing.
Taking a close look at which teams may be enticed by Casali’s skills, I’ve come up with the following possibilities.
They spent a lot to contend this year and seem to be all-in. They were rumoured to be in the hunt for Norris because they are currently looking at Tony Wolters (205 career AB) and Dustin Garneau (138 AB) holding down the C roles until Tom Murphy returns from a fractured forearm. Casali would provide stability for them until Murphy returns and is better than Murphy vs LHP (Murphy hit .225/.279/.300 vs LHP in 2016).
The Rays and Rockies have completed a deal recently dealt (McGee-Marquez for Dickerson-Padlo). This makes the Rockies an intriguing match.
Carson Kelly is set to learn from the best catcher of this generation in 2017, but there’s word about that the Cards may actually prefer to have Kelly handling the bulk of the work in AAA instead of sitting often on the bench.
“General manager John Mozeliak said Monday the Cardinals are leaning toward having 22-year-old catcher Carson Kelly begin the 2017 season in the Minors, which means that the club will remain engaged in the catching market this offseason.”
If they are in need of a stop gap behind Molina, Casali could help. That makes them intriguing as well.
The Twins have Jason Castro taking over and he has hit .190/.249/.287 vs LHP over his career. Chris Gimenez and John Ryan Murphy are the current backups right now and Casali would seemingly be an upgrade over either offensively. With Castro’s well documented struggles vs LHP, Casali would seemingly be a good fit in Minnesota.
Stephen Vogt is set to see the majority of the time behind the plate for the A’s but has struggled some vs LHP. His backup is currently set to be Josh Phegley and Casali could be an upgrade, but Phegley has managed a .264/.303/.447 career line vs LHP making this one less likely.
This match depends on whether or not the A’s see Casali as better than Phegley.
Chicago White Sox
Zack Collins is the future of the White Sox behind the plate, but he won’t be around until 2018 at a minimum. With Omar Narvaez (101 career AB) and veteran Geovany Soto as their current best options, the White Sox could be interested in adding depth behind the plate.
But unless the deal is expanded to include something that really interests the White Sox long term, it’s hard to see them investing much in dealing for Casali. He’s unlikely to be in their long-term plans.
Curt Casali trade: Possible Expansion
Let’s assume that Casali is in fact dealt, will it be on his own or as part of a larger deal?
A trade could include the addition of a pitcher, or prospect, depending on a trade match’s needs. With that in mind, the Rockies and Cardinals begin to separate themselves as contenders for Casali’s services.
The Rockies have invested heavily in the 2017 season and were many people’s choice as one team to watch as a result. Recent injuries to Ian Desmond and the health of Chad Bettis may have hampered that enthusiasm, but they’re not likely to sit on their hands without a good attempt to help their situation.
Therefore, the Rockies may be interested in starting pitching to go along with Casali should a deal be struck.
As with the Rockies, the Cards have also suffered a significant SP loss when Alex Reyes went down to injury. Although they’re said to be depending on Michael Wacha to fill the void, there’s some risk there that the Cards may want to mitigate. The Rays have a few starter options that also fit well in relief as long-relief options until the need arises.
There’s a good chance that Casali will find himself on the move this spring, and there’s a good chance that the starting catching tandem for the Rays will be a completely revamped duo of Sucre and Norris and remain that way until Ramos returns.
There’s a good possibility that any deal involve more than Casali, with pitching as the likely accompaniment.
While he did have his share of struggles in 2016, whoever lands Casali (if dealt) will get a good catcher who can handle LHP effectively and has the potential to provide above-average power.
He saw more playing time than before in 2016 and now has added experience that can help teams with young catching tandems and/or teams that don’t want young star catchers sitting on the bench.
While the Rays can certainly decide to option Casali to AAA, doing so would force them to make another transaction to open up the roster spots they may want to use for other players (with Weeks and Sucre being the most obvious).
To finish this one off, we’ll bring back the two-game stretch that saw Casali mash 4 HRs. Definitely a great Casali highlight, and below that is the aforementioned concussion video.