Dabynsky has often lamented the lack of depth at the catcher position for the Cubs past incumbent starter Welington Castillo. The worry is that if Beef Castle goes down with an injury, there are no true MLB-ready catchers in-house to step in. My argument is that you can’t have two solid catchers on the same roster and then expect one to get the bulk of the starts while the other just waits for his turn. And even if you could allow one of the catchers to squat at 1B every now and then, that does take at-bats away from Anthony Rizzo, which probably isn’t ideal either. Since it seems the Cubs are intent on using Beef Castle as their core starting catcher, one of the emphases in free agency is to secure a capable (read: not Koyie Hill) backup catcher. I am in agreement with Mauricio that it’s okay to leave Beef in as the starter.
What of the backup though? As you guys know, Beef is right-handed, which is normally the short side of a platoon (most pitchers are right-handed). With Dioner Navarro probably pricing himself out of backup catcher salary range, the lefty options have dwindled by at least two (with Brian McCann rumored to be working on a deal with the New York Yankees, being reported as five years and $80MM+ with Heyman updating it to $85MM all told). I believe that Jarrod Saltalamacchia, although a switch-hitter, will be too expensive even if he’s a better “for the future” option since he’s not tied to draft pick compensation. Besides, you don’t want Salty as a backup anyway for that price.
There are a bunch of guys that may be useful as backups. For example, George Kottaras was just designated for assignment by the Kansas City Royals. Although he doesn’t have the prettiest looking slash line, he’s okay behind the dish and has some zing in the bat, and also has decent on-base skills. Kottaras is left-handed but there’s no way a guy with his track record starts over Beef, and with his next contract projected to be around $1.2MM prior to non-tender, he should be cheap. He might also spell Beef when the opposing pitcher is a particularly harsh righty.
Kelly Shoppach is a bit older, and right-handed, but might be just as affordable as Kottaras. And if you want the Molina magic, Jose Molina is still on the market. But the name that keeps coming up is Kurt Suzuki, who is heading into his age 30 season and should project to be no more than a backup. Suzuki is also right-handed and wouldn’t be part of a platoon.
UPDATE 11/24 2:58 PM: It seems Molina is off the table:
Jose Molina has 2-year agreement with #rays. Said to be for $4.5M for the 2.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) November 24, 2013
This may also be the comp for a Kottaras (or whoever) backup contract. Wonder if Kottaras is worth $2MM+ for the year, though.
Note that I’m keeping the list focused on guys who can back up but won’t cost too much, won’t grab too much of Beef Castle’s playing time, etc. There’s also the possibility that the Cubs use Eli Whiteside if he impresses enough in spring training. With the backup catcher, unless they want Beef Castle to rot on the bench while Salty does the bulk of the receiving, you’re not going to get Johnny Bench anyway. You just want somebody who can prevent too many wild pitches and won’t be worse than Darwin Barney in the #8 spot. I’m pulling for the front office to look at Kottaras or Suzuki, but maybe there’s a surprise coming up on waivers.