By: Noah Wright
The A’s have just lost out on resigning their 2018 catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Last season, the former Brewer all-star batted .241/.291/.325 with 4 home runs and was worth 70 wRC+. Defensively, Lucroy was so-so. Granted he was worth -11 DRS, -3.7 framing runs and -.3 dWAR, he did catch 30% of runners trying to take an extra base on him. Plus, many of the A’s pitchers did enjoy having Lucroy behind the plate. Regardless, the Angels have swooped in and nabbed him on a 1 year, $3.35 million deal.
This leaves the A’s without a good answer at catcher. Currently on the depth chart, Josh Phegley ranks as the team’s best option at catcher. I’m pretty sure that a competing team (even the A’s) don’t want to rely on a catcher with a .635 career OPS, and not super standout defensively. Looking at the team's current status, they don't need a long term option at catcher. They have top prospect Sean Murphy making his way up through the minors, and should be up in the show by the end of 2019 so long as he isn’t marjory injured or his performance takes a complete nosedive. Last season, Murphy mainly played in Double-A recording 289 of his 306 plate appearances in Midland AA (the 17 PA’s coming from Rookie Ball and Triple-A). Across the three levels, Murph turned in a good .285/.361/.489 line, along with a 131 wRC+ in Double-A, and an overall .204 ISO. Defensively, he’s one of the best catching prospects with the leather. Last season, Murphy caught 34% of the runners trying to steal on him, and MLB.com ranks him with a 70 arm and a 65 fielding ability. Both of which outrank any top 10 catching prospects’ arm/fielding ability.
Right now, top free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal still is out there. In 2018, the Dodger’s former catcher batted .241/.349/.466 with 24 home runs and 68 RBI’s. His wRC+ of 125 ranked right behind J.T. Realmuto, who had 126, in catcher wRC+. Grandal is also a decent with the glove. Since 2015, he’s caught runners trying to steal at an above league average rate. Plus, he reached 9 DRS, and led the MLB in framing runs at 15.7. One of Grandal’s few weaknesses is blocking. He’s led the league in passed balls 3 times in his career, and gave up 9 more this season. Baseball Prospectus also gave Grandal just .8 blocking runs. However, Yaz has been aiming high priced contract. It just recently that Grandal turned down a 4 year, $60 million contract from the NY Mets. Speaking that the A’s are likely looking for a contract within the 1-2 year range, they probably aren’t going to be able to land Yasmani, unless he’s willing to take just a 2 year deal.
If the A’s want to go after a good option for the short term, JT Realmuto might pop up on their radar. Afterall, Realmuto only has 2 years of control left and it bring in another impact bat to join Matt Chapman and Matt Olson. Realmuto has broken out to be one of the best catchers in all of baseball. Last year, Realmuto batted .277/.340/.484 with 21 home runs.Though according to DRS, Realmuto was a negative defender (-7 DRS), he did catch 38% of runners trying to steal on him, and had a near league leading pop time of 1.90 seconds. Pitch framing, he was around average at -.3. Surprisingly, he’s a great base runner, and fast mover for a catcher. Last year, JTR had a 3.8 ultimate base running runs above average, and a 28.6 feet per second average sprint speed. In comparison, he is as fast as Cameron Maybin, and faster than Jose Altuve, and Jean Segura. However, the Marlins are holding JTR at high regard, and want a haul in exchange. If that includes Sean Murphy, it might not be worth it in the long run for the A’s, especially with JT only having 2 years of control left, and will likely be looking for a massive contract in free agency.
A better option is likely to acquire a rental catcher who’s not going to cost much, both money wise and prospect wise. Needless to say, Martin Maldonado will not do much with the bat. He has a career OPS of .639, but defensively, he’s one of the best in the MLB. The last two seasons, Maldo has combined for 35 DRS, catching 41% of runners trying to steal on him, and 2.6 dWAR between the Angels and Astros. Maldonado is also a decent framer with 5.9 framing runs in 2018. Though he did have -1.1 blocking runs. However, he would be an affordable, and decent stop gap for the A’s and Sean Murphy.