The Twins have been bad for quite a while now. A common theme has been their inability to fill the same holes year in and year out. Shortstop. Center field. The pitching staff. In addition to those, it seems as if catcher has been a question mark as well. Sure, Kurt Suzuki came in and plugged the hole two years ago, but then he slumped last year and his defensive woes were amplified. He did rebound this year, but the inability to control the running game has been a black mark on his ledger as a Twin.
The organization did attempt to address this problem last offseason when they traded Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for John Ryan Murphy. Many thought the plan would be to ease Murphy into the role of starting catcher, except he completely forgot how to hit and found himself banished to Triple-A for most of the season. Instead, his role was filled by Juan Centeno, a decent minor-league signing that performed admirably for a guy that practically none of us knew before his promotion.
Now Suzuki is a free agent and the Twins are tasked with a tough decision. They could bring back Suzuki once again and hope that his offensive resurgence won’t taper off again. They could test out the unproven Centeno in a timeshare again (because I doubt anyone thinks he’s truly a starting-caliber catcher). Maybe Murphy is given a second chance to show that he really is the catcher of the future. Or perhaps the Twins might just choose to find someone new from outside the organization to solve the Rubik’s Cube on the defensive side of the position.
All of the current catchers come with their pros and cons. Suzuki has thrown out just 19.3% of basestealers in his Twins career, though he has shown to be the most capable at blocking pitches and we keep hearing about his rapport with the pitching staff. Murphy has successfully caught 30% of his runners, but he allowed a staggering 15 wild pitches in just 25 games (a weakness I noted shortly after the season started). Finally, Centeno might be the worst of the bunch defensively as he’s thrown out just 14% of basestealers in his career while allowing 42 wild pitches in 73 career games.
Although you all would be pleased to hear that Drew Butera is a free agent at 34 (yes, 34) years of age, I’m factoring in offense in my assessment of available free agent catchers. Please note that I’m ignoring any players that will likely have their option picked up (Jonathan Lucroy) and those that likely aren’t serious targets for the Twins anyway for financial reasons (Matt Wieters, Wilson Ramos). All numbers provided are for the player’s career, and keep in mind that this is far from a complete list.
Alex Avila - .240/.346/.395, 29% caught stealing, 1 wild pitch per 2.7 games
Don’t let his offense fool you, he’s actually a much worse hitter that has benefited from one single year where he hit .295/.389/.506. However, he did walk an impressive 18% of the time for the second year in a row and being a lefty, he’s a good platoon candidate with Murphy.
Jason Castro - .232/.309/.390, 26% caught stealing, 1 wild pitch per 2.3 games
Another lefty that can’t hit lefties, he’d be best off platooning with Murphy as well. His offense also has tanked the last few years, but he still has some power and can draw some walks as well.
A.J. Ellis - .239/.340/.351, 33% caught stealing, 1 wild pitch per 2.8 games
Apparently all these guys can draw walks (I swear that’s just a coincidence). Ellis is one of the older candidates here and thus probably would suffer more if pressed into regular duty due to injuries.
Nick Hundley - .250/.303/.404, 27% caught stealing, 1 wild pitch per 3.1 games
Hundley has been up and down his entire career with the bat, plus he bats righthanded which doesn’t fit that well with Murphy. The Twins also have to determine if his numbers from the past two years were aided by Coors Field.
In addition to this being an incomplete list, I’ve completely ignored the benefits of pitch-framing. While it’s certainly debatable over how much framing actually contributes to the game, the Twins consistently fielded poor pitch-framers behind the plate and I’m sure Derek Falvey would target guys that are at worst in the middle of the pack.
What do you think? If you could sign a realistic catcher for the Twins in 2016 to split catching duties, who would you want?