The Twins find themselves in the enviable position of having two good, young, cheap catchers.
Last week, in our simulated off season, I traded Mitch Garver for pitching. The Twins have a chance to do the same in real life probably, but I don’t think they will, nor should.
The case for trading Garver is pretty simple, really. Ryan Jeffers came up and looked good, Garver struggled, and the Twins have limited assets to acquire more pieces with. Eddie Rosario is likely gone, making both Byron Buxton and Max Kepler more important. The Twins won’t be trading away any big-name starters (they would have to get one first, anyhow) and therefore catcher is the one position of depth. That is, without dipping into the farm system.
While it looks like Jeffers is ready, 2020 was already a small sample—and what we saw from Jeffers was even smaller. He’s still a rookie, and still a prospect for all intents and purposes. He appeared in 26 games — 62 major league plate appearances. That’s less than 20% of what a catcher would get in a full season. Sure, he looked good, but Garver looked great in 2019. What if Jeffers suffers a similar slump, or an injury? The Twins will suddenly be back to no depth.
Speaking of small samples, Garver only played 23 games in 2020. His 81 plate appearances would be considered a “slump” or a “bad month” in a normal season. Months ago, I said that we shouldn’t worry about him, it was simply a timing issue, and I still believe that is true. Especially with a truncated training before the season, and injuries preventing him from getting going, Garver’s season is a blip on the radar.
The Twins would also have to sign a replacement for Garver, and will end up spending more to do so. Garver is a first year arbitration eligible player, and therefore would be fairly inexpensive. He’s projected to make about $1.8 million in 2021. Willians Astudillo will make less, but he’s the only option that will, and do you really want him as the team’s number two catcher? Besides Astudillo, the option is essentially to sign a veteran. Someone, perhaps, like Alex Avila, who made $4.25 million last season— more than twice Garver’s projected 2021 salary. Avila is probably pretty representative of the second catcher market. Of course, a reunion with Drew Butera is always possible.
While the Twins do need high-end pitching, and should explore all the options to acquire it, selling low on Mitch Garver probably isn’t a wise idea. If someone makes a great offer, you have to take it, but it seems more prudent for the Twins to hold onto both Garver and Jeffers entering 2021.