With All Star Weekend fast approaching, we have another important date to keep in mind on the calendar…
It’s no big secret to say that the Houston Astros’ greatest need at the major league level is behind the plate. The duo of Jason Castro and Mártin Maldonado, while solid defensively, are both 35 years old. Not to mention their combined slash line .133/.216/.236. Both have clearly seen better offensive seasons, but even at a defensive position like catcher, the two rank last among the 30 major league teams in terms of productivity.
Some might point to Astros’ affiliate system and verify the name of current potential number two candidate, Korey Lee. The 23-year-old right-hander probably has the strongest arm in the system behind the plate and crosses the finish line with a scouting score of 70. Last season, he knocked out 43 percent of base stealers in the minors, and he can hit for power. Unfortunately, he’s currently only batting a .216 at Triple-A with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Houston’s organizational depth chart also features 23-year-old Yanier Diaz (ranked 14th) and 24-year-old Luke Berryhill (25th). With all the talent on the wings, could Houston’s answer behind the plate actually come from somewhere else?
As I said, the All-Star break is approaching, so the draft. Just after that annual event, on (or just before) July 31, Houston has a real shot at making a splash in its run for a second World Series Championship at the close.
The trade deadline separates teams into two categories: teams competing for a title this season and teams ready to build for future seasons. It’s clear the Astros are still in their competitor’s window. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if they send away part of their armory to augment their current weapon rack.
Which catchers will be available at the close of trading? A few names come to mind. In no particular order, here are some with expiring deals that will most likely get some attention from Astros.
Gary Sánchez has never averaged, but a career .793 OPS is a clear improvement over the status quo. Sánchez, long described as a defensive liability, is actually a net positive behind the plate and has averaged 1.4 dWAR per baseball reference throughout his career. After seven seasons with the Bombers, he currently supports the Minnesota Twins. Since the twins are also a “contender,” they may be more stuck with a good cause than trading him away. However, at just 29 and on an expiring contract, the twins mostly use Sanchez as their designated hitter, instead relying on Ryan Jeffers to stop most games.
Austin Barnes is a backup catcher with another contender, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now in his eighth season with the Dodgers, he has a career .225/.335/.357 slash. He has been a defensive asset throughout his career, posting positive dWAR in every major league season. He’s also a bargain, three years younger than Houston’s current stable and has 40 games of postseason experience. While it may seem like a wash, its admittedly skinny slash line is a clear upgrade, and it might be just what the Astros needs to be 0.01 percent better if every chip counts.
Before you start feeling any sort of trend, Tucker Barnhart plays for the Detroit Tigers, a team that certainly won’t be in any sort of postseason competition. The 31-year-old lefty-batting catcher is a two-time former Gold Glove winner, most recently in 2020. Though he appears to be in decline offensively, he’s still viable defensively, throwing baserunners out with a clip above the league average Run.
Of course, the real prize if the Astros go down that route is Willson Contreras, who plays for the already-out-of-contest Chicago Cubs. Just north of 30, Contreras was a two-time All Star, a capable if not flashy defensive catcher and a persistent offensive threat. With a line of .264/.379/.495 that yields 144 OPS+, 109 bases overall (just one off the team lead) and a major league-leading 14 HBP, Contreras will work every angle to get ahead base.
While some of these players are questionable upgrades at best, Contreras could make a difference in most facets of the game. Let’s face it, the Astros FO needs to build a team that can defeat the New York Yankees in a best-of-seven series as the title goes through the Big Apple (maybe twice) this season. Wouldn’t it be cool to see Houston defeat the Yankees and Mets in back-to-back series?
Whatever the case, thanks for reading and let me know what you think in the comments.