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What’s left of the free agent catcher market

The Royals may be in the market for a third catcher.

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Houston Astros v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Opening Day is just over ten weeks away, but the Royals may still have some fine-tuning to do with their roster before they begin the season on March 30. They would still like to add a starter and are negotiating with Zack Greinke, they could always use bullpen help, they had sought a right-handed bat that could potentially play third base, and they were reportedly looking for a backup catcher that excels at pitch-framing.

Having a third catcher could allow manager Matt Quatraro to feel more comfortable playing MJ Melendez in left field and Salvador Perez at DH, knowing that he had another backstop on the bench if someone got hurt. But with the free agent market drying up, there are few options remaining. Let’s look at what’s left.

Robinson Chirinos

It’s not entirely clear Chirinos will be playing baseball this season. He’ll turn 39 years old this summer, and he hit a dreadful .179/.265/.287 in 67 games for Baltimore last season. The Royals finished dead last in baseball in pitch-framing between Salvy and Melendez, but only two catchers were as bad as the Royals duo, and Chirinos was one of them (Colorado’s Elias Diaz was the other). He has generally been poor at throwing out baserunners, although last year he was close to average. In other words, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for anyone to pay Chirinos to play baseball next year, and it is probably time for him to explore coaching opportunities.

Roberto Pérez

The 34-year-old Pérez has been one of the best defensive catchers in baseball the last few seasons, according to Defensive Runs Saved, winning Gold Gloves in 2019 and 2020. Pérez has been a good pitch-framer, and has thrown out 40 percent of would-be base-stealers over the last four seasons, a mark slightly better than Salvy.

The Royals are said to be looking for a catcher that is good at handling pitchers. Fangraphs keeps a stat called Runs Created CERA, evaluating how pitchers fare when a certain catcher is behind the plate. Pérez has been one of the best catchers in baseball since 2019 under that metric, with experience handling the talented Cleveland pitching staff. Quatraro should have some familiarity with Pérez from his time on the Cleveland coaching staff, as should pitching coach Brian Sweeney.

Kevin Plawecki

Plawecki is an eight-year veteran backup catcher, spending time with the Mets, Indians, Red Sox, and Rangers. The 31-year-old had a strong reputation defensively early in his career, but he seems to be declining and was a -10 DRS catcher last year. Baserunners run wild on him - he threw out just 10 percent of runners last year, and gave up twice as many steals as Salvador Perez despite playing in 40 percent fewer innings. His pitch-framing runs from average to below-average. Plawecki was in Cleveland with Sweeney for one season, in 2019.

Gary Sánchez

Jon Morosi mentioned the Royals as a possibility for Sánchez, but I’m pretty skeptical. Sánchez is terrible at handling pitchers with one of the worst Runs Created CERA in baseball over the last four seasons. If the Royals were looking for a backstop who can hit dingers and DH a lot, Sánchez is your man, but they already have that in Salvador Perez, so Sánchez seems to make little sense for them. And even his bat is in serious decline - the right-hander hit just .205/.282/.377 with 16 home runs last year, and has hit just .195/.287/.394 over the last three seasons combined.

Luis Torrens

At age 26, Torrens is the youngest name on this list after being non-tendered by the Mariners. He hit 15 home runs in 378 plate appearances with a line of .243/.299/.431 in 2021 with Seattle, but regressed last year, earning a demotion at one point. He did miss time with COVID and a shoulder injury, so he could be a candidate to bounce back from his line of .225/.283/.298 last year if he is healthier. Torrens has hit lefties well in his career, and he did have some good exit velocity and hard-hit rates in 2021. He has been a below-average defender behind the plate, so despite his youth, he may not be what the Royals are looking for.