I’m not gonna lie here guys, this isn’t going to be the most exciting conversation about the Cubs and what they might do in free agency because we’re talking about back up catchers! Woo!
Don’t freak out. No one is here to try and move Willson Contreras. I wrote about him and a few of the other players who had down years in 2018, but despite Theo Epstein dropping the hammer and expressing his disappointment with the futile offense the Cubs presented in the second half, I think Contreras is still an untouchable.
Just please go back to not listening to Chili Davis.
Anyway, as much as Cubs fans get made fun of for their love of David Ross, this team really hasn’t had a stable presence at back up catcher since he retired. Miguel Montero had his falling out in 2017, and then the Cubs made a couple moves later that season to add Alex Avila and Rene Rivera, who both then left in free agency. For 2018, the Cubs signed Chris Gimenez and that was a complete disaster.
Victor Caratini finally got his chance to be Contreras’ backup and well, he was pretty bad too. The book on Caratini has always been that he’s known for his offense first and his defensive skills behind the plate second. In 501 career games in the minors, Caratini has a slash line of .290/.372/.430. That’s awesome and even in 2017, he hit 10 home runs in 292 at-bats in Triple-A and slugged .538.
I have no clue if Caratini also fell victim to Chili Davis, but any power that he had was sapped away in 2018. For most of the year, Caratini was an automatic out and ended the season with a slash line of .232/.293/.304, with only nine total extra base hits, two home runs and seven doubles.
I will give Caratini credit for making some adjustments, because in September he was getting more starts over Contreras and they were deserved, as he was the better hitting catcher at least through the first two weeks of that month.
It’s been a very small sample size for Caratini in the big leagues, only 240 at-bats, but he just hasn’t done enough for me to think the Cubs feel secure with him being the backup. Again, he’s supposed to be a good hitter and so far he just hasn’t been in the majors.
No, the Cubs aren’t going to break the bank on a backup for Contreras, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they try and sign a veteran catcher.
There are really two guys I’d love to see the Cubs target. The first is 37-year-old A.J. Ellis. The Cubs were reportedly interested in him back in 2017, when he was with the Marlins and he’s coming off another solid year handling back up duties with the Padres.
Ellis had a .722 OPS in 2018, slashing .272/.378/.344, in 66 games and has a career .340 OBP.
There’s also the previously mentioned Rene Rivera. He was awesome in his 20 games with the Cubs in 2017, posting a .999 OPS and had another great start to 2018 with the Angels before he suffered a knee injury. He hit four home runs in his first 30 games of the season before getting hurt.
So, just throwing that out there. Not the biggest need for the Cubs heading into the offseason, but maybe an under the radar move they could make to improve the roster.