The White Sox have looked very strong to date despite their overall miserable starting pitching outside of Giolito, and lack of a big name superstar. After such a disappointing offseason, it is comforting to see positive results on the field after missing out on both Machado and Harper. Rick Hahn told fans that the money would be spent, and hopefully a chunk of that eventually goes towards the rotation and bullpen. However, there is one other key position that the White Sox should consider spending big on, as long as they spend smart. With James McCann’s one year deal ending and Welington Castillo entering a team option year, it is the perfect time for the front office to make a decision on the future of the catching position. Let’s take a look at some of the options they could go with.
Inside the Organization
At this point, if you are not a fan of James McCann, you have not been watching the White Sox this year. He was a very low risk signing in the offseason, and has blown expectations out of the water. This year, he has a beautiful slash line of .320/.372/.491 to go along with 5 HRs and 18 RBI. He does not quite have the home run power that a guy like Zack Collins has to offer, but his greatest quality comes from the magic we works behind the plate
Having McCann at the catcher position this season has made a very noticeable difference in the pitchers’ performances. The team has a 24-17 record this year when he’s catching compared to a 7-19 record when he’s not. Also, when he’s behind the dish, the White Sox give up an average 4.49 runs per game compared to 4.99 runs otherwise. Not a huge difference, but it shows that he has a tangible effect on the staff despite the number of terrible pitchers currently on the roster. Not to mention, with a career caught-stealing percentage of 37%, he ranks third among active catchers behind only Yadier Molina and Martin Maldonado.
As he is fresh of his 29th birthday, I would love for the Sox to extend McCann for 3-4 more years. I am pretty certain he could be had for relatively cheap, and even if his bat does not stay at the level it has been at this year, his defense and experience still makes him a valuable asset and a potentially great second string catcher.
At 32-years-old, Castillo is slashing just .189/.283/.358 and is the owner of a disappointing 0.6 WAR since coming to the White Sox. I would be thrilled to see Castillo get launched into the purgatory that we call “DFA.” He was solid last year through 49 games, hitting .259/.304/.406, but it just has not been there at all this year, and he will not get better as he continues to age. The White Sox have a 2020 team option, and I would be utterly shocked if they chose to use it.
I am not exactly sure what I think of Zavala. His career minor league slash line is .267/.335/.457, which is not bad at all. In nine major league appearances, he only has one hit, but that is a minuscule sample size that nobody should put any value in. I highly doubt he is around in 3 years, at least at the major league level, but he also does have the raw skills to potentially put things together and carve out a decent little major league career. Remember his name, but do not put it near the top of your list.
A lot of people consider Zack Collins to be our catcher of the future, but I just do not believe in him. In his minor league career, he has a career average of .235 and an OPS of .816. The batting average makes me cringe a bit, but the OPS is not terrible. He has solid power numbers, but again, nothing that jumps off the page. Collins does have a very strong arm with historically great caught stealing percentages and a career CS% of 39%. I just do not see him as a long term piece if the White Sox plan on being competitive for as long as we would like. He could not hit well in Miami, and he still does not hit too well now, striking out nearly 30% of the time.
Yermin Mercedes is 26-years-old, so to call him a part of the future might be a reach, but this guy has just straight up performed. His career slash line in the minors is a very nice .301/.364/.475 with 66 HR and 328 RBI in 563 games. His CS% is 42%, which is outstanding. He has been consistently good in the minor leagues, and I question why he has not gotten more attention. Long-term may not be a phrase you will hear with him, but for the next six or so years I see no reason why he should not at least be given a shot at the big leagues. If he cannot handle it, no harm done. He simply goes back to raking in the minors. He has breakout potential though, and I would not be surprised at all to see him in black and white pinstripes relatively soon. He is slashing .322/.387/.497 this year in Birmingham and should see a promotion to Triple-A once Collins or Zavala are up for good.
This 22-year-old Venezuelan is another underrated minor leaguer that I really like. He has a career minor league slash of .255/.327/.336 and almost reminds me of Nick Madrigal. He makes good, consistent contact, does not strike out too much, but he will not hit many balls out of the park. He is currently at High-A Winston-Salem, and he has put together a solid season so far. Perez still has a long way to go before he will be ready for the major leagues, but I see no reason why he cannot break an opening day roster three years from now. I’m a big fan, and I would like to see him succeed simply because high-contact players are important for a team that historically and currently strikes out a lot.
Gunnar Troutwine is an AWESOME name. It’s hard to come up with a better name for a catcher than that. I digress, so let’s talk numbers. He was drafted just a year ago, but he has great college numbers and has put together a solid first-half for Kannapolis. His average and on-Base are very nice at .283 and .366 respectively, but his slugging-percentage is not even at .400, which is almost a red flag for me. The real red flag is that he typically strikes out a lot more than he walks, and I hate seeing that in players who do not hit for consistent power. Also, from what I can tell, he does not have a very strong arm, or at least he has a tough time throwing runners out. He is 6’1″, 230 lbs, so I see perhaps a move to first base in the long run if he has any hope of cracking the majors.
Future Free Agents
Yasmani Grandal: Signed with the Milwaukee Brewers through 2019
I love Yasmani Grandal. He is already 30-years-old, which will scare a lot of people off, but the Sox have money that we were told would be spent. Starting pitching is obviously a position where some of that money needs to go, but I would love if Rick Hahn dumped money on Grandal. He is an above-average defensive catcher, and although he does not throw out runners at an extremely high rate, he calls a good game to go along with some postseason experience. While he may not be a marquee free agent like Harper or Machado, this would be the perfect way to spend a chunk of money, and a Grandal/McCann backstop would be quite the thing over the next few years.
Jonathan Lucroy: Signed with the Los Angeles Angels through 2019
A free agent at the end of this season, Lucroy is not someone that most people think of as a high-end catcher. This season as well as last have been rough for him, and he is already 33-years-old. Under no circumstances do I want the White Sox spending big money on him, but a one or two year deal would give the Sox breathing room to figure out their long term plans for this position. There is also the possibility that Lucroy figures things out and returns to past form, which would be a steal if he were signed for cheap.
Russell Martin: Signed with the Dodgers through 2019
Russell Martin is difficult. He is inconsistent at the plate, OLD, but has always been an above–average catcher. Unless he is demanding a long-term contract, I would not be upset at all about him coming to Chicago. With a ton of postseason experience and solid but not great defensive ability, pull the trigger if he can be had for cheap. I am on the fence about Martin, but I like him as a player and he certainly is not one of the worst options that will be available.
Martin Maldonado: Signed with Kansas City through 2019
Maldonado cannot hit. He just cannot do it. I hate the idea of picking up a catcher that is so poor at the plate, but Maldonado is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. If our number one option after this year ends up being Zack Collins, I am all in on going for Maldonado. With McCann, I think it becomes a different story as we would already have a fantastic defensive catcher and I like a Collins/McCann backstop. If for some reason we do not extend or resign McCann, Maldonado would be a perfect compliment to Collins. One bat and one arm is a good setup behind the plate, and alternating them would give the White Sox success on both offense and defense. The only drawback is that he is almost 33-years-old, and could bring a steeper price than the White Sox would want to pay.
Francisco Cervelli: Signed with the Pirates through 2019
My answer is no. Six or seven years ago I would be all in, but Cervelli is just so far out of his prime at this point that it would not be worth anything he would be willing to take. I like Cervelli, he has been good for a long time, but in 12 seasons, he has only hit the 100 game mark three times. Even worse, he just does not have a good arm, and I do not trust him defensively. I liked him years ago, but now I would not touch him with a ten-foot pole. This would be the kind of signing that could be a huge waste of money for the Sox.
Jason Castro: Signed with the Twins through 2019
Castro is another guy who, similar to Russell Martin, I just do not know what to think of him. He’s had good and bad seasons, and he’s very good defensively, but I cannot be certain that he will be a consistent contributor over the next few seasons. At 31, he still has about three more serviceable years at the minimum, so it would not be the worst signing, but I would rather spend that money elsewhere unless the options are very limited.
Wilson Ramos: Signed through 2020, 2021 team option with the Mets
A year older than Grandal, Ramos is another guy who I would not mind spending money on because I am confident in his production. Trading for him would be an option as well, but it would not be clear whether he would sign a longer deal or just wait out his current deal until he hits free agency. As far as how he plays: he hits better than Grandal, slashing .273/.320/.437 over his ten year tenure in the majors. There also would not be a drop off defensively, as Ramos has proven to be reliable behind the dish. A 2021 team option may prevent him from hitting the market, and if the Mets are smart (which thankfully they usually are not), they should extend him. I prefer Grandal to Ramos, just because Ramos would be 33 when he would finally come to the South Side. I am still hopeful that he will be available to join a White Sox team ready to compete for a championship in 2021.
Catcher is one of the most difficult positions to fill nowadays. Almost every player is either great defensively with a weak bat or vice versa, so it really becomes a matter of what kind of effect you want the player to have on the team. Unfortunately, the Sox do not have much minor league depth at this position, at least no one I believe will be successful in the long term. Because of that, I think the best option is to pursue one of the upcoming free agents and to extend James McCann. McCann gives you everything you could ever want and more defensively, he is great for the young pitching staff, and this year at least, his bat has been great. I do not see Collins achieving long-term success at the major league level, so signing someone like Grandal or Ramos would be the best option. Overpaying for anyone other than those two would be ill-advised, but I have no problem spending big money on an older player who would, at the very least, fill a hole at one of the White Sox weakest positions.
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Featured Photo: AP Photo/David J. Phillip