Who will be the next Dodgers Catcher?

With Catcher Yasmani Grandal on the free agent market, the Dodgers face a challenge this off-season in finding a backstop who can fill the shoes of the 30 year old, former All-Star. While it is still possible for Grandal to resign with the club, it appears highly unlikely he does after turning down the $17.9 Million qualifying offer from Los Angeles. With blue chip prospects, Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith, knocking on the MLB door and top international prospect, Diego Cartaya not far behind them, it is wise to assume the Dodgers will continue their conservative approach and stay away from committing multiple years to a player already in his thirties.

While Keibert Ruiz and/or Will Smith are likely to see limited action in 2019, both appear to be at least one year away from becoming starters at the big league level. Other in-house options consist of Austin Barnes, Kyle Farmer and Rocky Gale. While all saw time with the Major League club last year, none have proven to be legitimate, everyday options for a team with hopes of winning a World Series. After a 2017 campaign that saw Austin Barnes seize the starting Catcher job from Yasmani Grandal down the stretch, hitting an excellent .289 with an OPS of .895, he badly regressed in 2018, hitting just .205 with an OPS of .619 ( a decrease of over 275 points). Although listed as a Catcher on the roster, Kyle Farmer logged in only 1% of his 138.2 defensive innings at the Catcher position in 2018. Suffice to say, the Dodgers do not see him as the Catcher of the future. As for Rocky Gale, he will be 31 in February and has logged in just 42 innings over his entire Major League Career.

Simply put, the Dodgers MUST find an everyday Catcher this off-season. President of Baseball Operation, Andrew Friedman said during a television interview that the Catcher position is on the top of the Dodgers list this off-season. Without further ado, here are 5 five guys who can (at least come close to) filling the shoes of Yasmai Grandal.

5. Omar Narvaez

Who? Which is the question some of you may be asking. Omar Narvaez, currently the Catcher for the Chicago White Sox, he is arguably the most underrated Catcher in baseball following the 2018 season. Only 26 years old, and under club control for another four years, Narvaez fits the ideal financial profile the Dodgers look for in players. Beyond his financials and age, Narvaez was one of MLB’s most productive Catchers offensively last year. Of all Catchers with at least 300 Plate Appearances in 2018, Narvaez ranked 2nd in On Base Percentage at .366, 4th in Batting Average at .275, and 5th in Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) at .348. Most of these categories, Narvaez was in elite company, with offensive statistics alongside some of the best in the game (Posey, Realmuto, Grandal and Ramos). Not to mention, his 120 OPS+ is the same as Cody Bellinger, Yankees Shortstop Didi Gregorious and Athletics All-Star Jed Lowire, while playing the most challenging position in baseball. With Wellington Castillo likely to see a majority of the action for the White Sox in 2019 following a 2018 that saw him miss much time due to PED suspension and injury, and 2016 first-rounder Zack Collins appearing to be the backstop of the future on the south side, it doesn’t make much sense for Narvaez to see reduced playing time for a team that is realistically a year or two away from legitimate contention. Due to the fact he is on another team, it would obviously take a trade to pry him away from the White Sox.

The Trade

Dodgers Receive: C Omar Narvaez, LHP Jace Fry

White Sox Receive: OF/DH Matt Kemp, OF Andrew Toles, 1B/3B Edwin Rios (Dodgers #13 prospect), 3B Cristian Santana (Dodgers #24 prospect)

I know, I loved seeing Matt Kemp revive his career last season back where it all began as well. However, the reality is that there is just really no spot for Matt Kemp in the outfield for the Dodgers, especially as an everyday player. With Bellinger, Puig, Pederson, Taylor, Hernandez, top prospect Alex Verdugo and who knows, maybe even Bryce Harper, it is clear that there is just a logjam in the outfield. Matt Kemp would fit into the American League well as a Designated Hitter at this point in his career, and the White Sox have a need there. The same story holds true for Andrew Toles, there is really just no spot for him in the Dodgers outfield and his pre-arbitration status makes him quite attractive to a club who could use some help in the outfield. The White Sox don’t have many holes in the farm system, but they could use help in the corner infield. Rios is one of the top hitting prospects in the organization, but with Muncy, Bellinger, Turner and others at first base, this creates a situation where Rios is simply blocked for at least the next couple years. That is the same story for Santana, who is still quite a ways away from Major League action.

Fry is a left handed relief pitcher for the White Sox, at only 25 years old, he led them in appearances last year. With another few years of club control, Fry is another attractive piece for the Dodgers, who have a niche for finding valuable relief pitchers at a relatively low cost.

4. Francisco Cervelli

With the Pirates having hopes for playoff contention, on the heels of a respectable 82-79 campaign in 2018, in which they exceeded expectations, it is unlikely that they deal their starting Catcher, who has established himself as one of the better backstops in the game for the better part of a decade. However, with only one year left on his contract and his age (33 on Opening Day of 2019), it isn’t far-fetched to imagine a scenario in which they at least listen to offers for him. With 28 year old Elias Diaz ready to catch every day, there is possibility for deal. During his time in Pittsburgh, Cervelli has been one of the better offensive Catchers, but he really found his niche last year. With a minimum of 400 plate appearances, Cervelli led all Catchers with a .378 On Base Percentage, tied for 3rd in Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) at 125 and placed 4th with an On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS) of .809. Defensively he was solid, ranking 4th among MLB catchers with 62 assists and throwing out 39% of would be steals (good enough for 5th in MLB). Overall, his 3.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was good enough for 3rd among all Catchers. With one year left on his deal, the Dodgers could trade to acquire him.

The Trade

Dodgers Receive: C Francisco Cervelli

Pirates Receive: IF/OF Kike Hernandez, RHP Yadier Alvarez (Dodgers #10 prospect)

The Pirates could use both a right handed and someone who can play the infield in general. Enter another fan favorite that would break the hearts of many if he got traded is utility man Kike Hernandez. After a solid 2018 in which Hernandez played various positions but most notably Shortstop almost everyday in between Seager being shut down and the acquisition of Manny Machado. Hernandez showed some power as well, swatting 21 home runs with an .806 OPS. With the real possibility of the Dodgers adding an everyday Second Baseman, there will not be enough playing time for both Chris Taylor and Hernandez. I could have gone either way with these two, but due to the fact Taylor has an extra year of team control, I went with him. As well, his performance in 2017 was enough to leave me believing he still has that All-Star potential in him at only 28 years of age. For a few years, Right Handed Pitcher Yadier Alvarez was considered the future ace of the Dodgers, but due to issues in recent years, he is yet to make his MLB debut and his place in the organization has taken a tumble since then. A change of scenery may be just what Alvarez needs.

3. Yan Gomes

Gomes seems like the perfect trade candidate for the Dodgers. The Indians have been clear that they intend to trade of pieces under contract, due to the fact the AL Central is so porous for now and the immediate future, even if the Indians were to trade away several major league pieces, they would still be front runners to win the division. Coupled with their interest in Outfielders and pieces to help them, the Dodgers could certainly strike a deal with the Indians. Gomes is signed through 2019 with $9 Million Club Option for 2020 and an $11 Million Club Option for 2021 with a $1M buyout for each season. Essentially, this gives the Dodgers all power to decide when they are ready to pass the starting job off to either Ruiz or Smith. Gomes does not possess the offensive prowess of Yasmani Grandal or J.T. Realmuto, nor is he quite the defensive wizard that Martin Maldonado is. However, Gomes is above league average, coming off a season with a WAR of 2.6, respectable slash line of .266/.313/.449 and 16 Home Runs. Intangibly, his postseason experience with the Indians is valuable.

The Trade

Dodgers Receive: C Yan Gomes, LHP Brad Hand

Indians Receive: OF Joc Pederson, C/3B Will Smith (Dodgers #5 propsect)  PTBNL / Cash

The Indians had a glaring need in the outfield last season and it is amplified even more so now with the loss of their best Outfielder, Michael Brantley. Although it is possible he may resign with Cleveland, it remains unlikely. Enter Joc Pederson, the slugging lefty who had a resurgence for Los Angeles last year, hitting 25 Home Runs with an excellent .843 OPS. While playing almost only against right handed pitcher for Los Angeles, Pederson would most likely have an everyday spot in the Cleveland Outfield, serving as a left handed bat atop the lineup with Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Will Smith is going to be up in the big leagues soon. Possibly the most athletic Catching prospect in baseball, Will Smith is incredibly talented defensively, which is unique for a Catcher. With Francisco Mejia leaving Cleveland at last years’ deadline, it is clear that the Indians need a Catcher to step in and become their guy for the future. Smith’s unique combination of athleticism, speed and power should be enough to complete this deal for Cleveland.

Brad Hand has emerged as one of the premier relievers in the MLB over the last two years. With the Dodgers’ bullpen in limbo, Hand should provide a steady left handed arm that can work alongside Jansen, as he makes his way back from heart surgery. Entering his age 29 season, Hand has three more years on his contract with a $1M buyout for his final season.

2. Salvador Perez

A six-time All Star, five-time Gold Glove winner, two-time Silver Slugger and World Series MVP, at only the age of 28? With three more years on an incredibly team friendly deal? How is this guy not number one on this list? A valid question. Despite all these career accolades, Perez seems to have become forgotten over the last few years despite hitting over 20 Home Runs the past four seasons and knocking in 80 in back to back years. Largely due to Kansas City’s has fall into complete irrelevancy and some offensive inconsistencies from Perez himself, he is often left out of conversations when people talk about the elite Catchers in the MLB. This simply should not be the case. Salvador Perez has earned the right to be in the same breath with the elite Catcher of the league. Perez is an elite defender playing a position where defense matters most. Salvador Perez was the only qualified catcher in baseball last season with a perfect fielding percentage. He did not commit one error. WOW. Ranking 2nd last season in both assists and percentage of runners thrown out, Perez continues to build his hall-of-fame quality resume defensively. He also hits for power, with power numbers basically equivalent to Yasmani Grandal, Perez is more productive from the right side of the plate than Grandal. Suffice to say, this may be an upgrade.

The Trade

Dodgers Receive: C Salvador Perez, 2B Whit Merrifield, LHP Brian Flynn

Royals Receive: OF/DH Matt Kemp, OF Andrew Toles, LHP Caleb Ferguson, OF Alex Verdugo (Dodgers #1 prospect), RHP Yadier Alvarez (Dodgers #10 prospect) C Connor Wong (Dodgers #16 Propsect)

This trade addresses every one of the Dodgers needs, and does so in style. Adding a top-ten Catcher, superb leadoff hitting 2nd Baseman (who should have been an All-Star), a lefty for the bullpen who induces groundballs and getting (mostly) out from under the final year of Kemp’s contract. Not to mention, all are on team friendly deals or under club control for the next couple years. Of course it will cost a hefty price.

Kemp and Toles have appeared in two mock trades so far, I just do not see a fit for them in the Dodgers outfield. Alex Verdugo is a blue chip prospect. With a 70 arm tool and a 60 hit tool, he is one of MLB’s elite prospects. As one of baseball’s top hitting prospects, he has dominated the minors and is ready for full-time Major League action. His ability to hit and control the strike zone has been seen in brief spurts with Los Angeles. Caleb Ferguson emerged as one of the Dodgers most effective relievers in 2018, with a future as a starter, his strong fastball and wipeout curve from the left side should be enticing to a rebuilding team that is in need of quality, young arms. Again, Alvarez may simply benefit from a change of scenery on a team that can offer him more opportunities. Connor Wong is incredibly athletic behind the plate and is a quality catching prospect, but he is blocked in the Dodgers organization and realistically does not have much a future with the club.

1. J.T. Realmuto

Although the mock trade with Kansas City is the best for the Dodgers (at least immediately), J.T. Realmuto, on his own is the best catcher Los Angeles can bring in. During a historical low-point in MLB at the Catcher position, Realmuto is THE bright spot at the position. The rebuilding Marlins know this and as a result they are asking for a king’s ransom in return for the backstop, with rumors of Miami asking for Cody Bellinger just to get the conversation started with the Dodgers. If the Dodgers have any hopes of bringing in Realmuto, they must wait until the Marlins bring down their asking price. Cody Bellinger is the future of the organization and trading him away for anybody (exception maybe Mike Trout) is ill-advised and asinine. Realmuto is like gasoline when the demand is far greater than the supply, simply not worth the ridiculously high price. That being said, Realmuto is currently the best offensive Catcher in the game. With a 4.3 WAR, 131 OPS+ and 126 wRC+, Realmuto really has nothing left to prove. There are questions about him defensively, but he had to catch one of the worst staring pitching staffs in baseball. Getting the opportunity to catch for the elite arms of the Dodgers, there is reason to believe Realmuto would turn the corner behind the dish. At 27 and with two years of arbitration before becoming a free agent, there is validation in Miami wanting a strong return.

The Trade

Dodgers Receive: C J.T. Realmuto, LHP Adam Conley

Marlins Receive: OF/DH Matt Kemp, OF Alex Verdugo (Dodgers #1 prospect), RHP Dustin May (Dodgers #3 prospect), RHP Yadier Alvarez (Dodgers #10 prospect), PTBNL/Intl. Signing Money

With elite players out on the free agent market and the Dodgers World Series drought hitting 30 years, the Dodgers are likely working to do everything they can to be rid of Matt Kemp’s remaining $18 Million. To do so, they would need to attach a blue chip prospect. For this deal they attach two, in order to add both the best available Catcher and shed most of the remaining money on Kemp’s contract. Dustin May was originally who the Orioles wanted the Machado deal to be based around but the Dodgers were reluctant to deal him. That goes to show just how highly they regard May. At 21, May has a powerful fastball and dominant curve, both of which allow a lot of ground balls. He has the height and tools to anchor a staff one day. Again, Alvarez really could benefit from a change of scenery.

Conley possesses a powerful fastball, hard change up and nasty slider. The former starter moved over to the bullpen full time last season, which is exactly the type of reliever the Dodgers have had success with in recent years. With a strong repertoire, pitching guru Rick Honeycutt may help Conley become one of the most effective lefty reliever in the game.

 

Good Catchers are hard to come by right now in the MLB. For a team with hopes of a World Series title, a quality backstop will go a long way toward deciding the fate of the Dodgers in 2019 and beyond.