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A Potential Solution for the White Sox’ Catching Dilemma

by Adam Kaplan

For all of the talk currently happening among fans on social media about what the White Sox should do to improve at right field, which starting pitcher should be added into the rotation, and before Josh Harrison was signed, how the team should improve at second base, it seems that very few people are discussing how the Sox should improve at back-up catcher.

MLB teams, even ones with World Series aspirations like the White Sox, do not necessarily need to focus attention on back-up positions. However, catcher is different. Due to the nature of the defensive position, even the best catcher needs consistent games off to help rest their knees and keep them healthy come playoff time. This is especially true for the White Sox, who will be consistently starting 33-year-old Yasmani Grandal in 2022.

Former first-round draft pick Zack Collins (almost certainly) will be the Pale Hose’s number two in 2022. Considering how poor his 2021 season went, Collins getting consistent playing time is anything but ideal. For starters, he was one of the worst defensive catchers last year. Per Baseball Savant, Collins was ahead of just Salvador Perez in Runs Extra Strikes, Baseball Savant’s framing metric.

Former Sox and current Brewer Omar Narváez led the league in 2021 with 10 Runs Extra Strikes, and Collins was almost the worst in the league with -10 Runs Extra Strikes. Collins didn’t excel at throwing out base runners either. The Miami product allowed 45 of 54 base runners attempting to steal a base to do so successfully, good for a 16.7 CS%. This percentage was the same as Grandal (who allowed 50 of 72 baserunners to successfully steal).

Unlike Yaz, Collins didn’t make up for any defensive liabilities with his bat. In 2021, he slashed .210/.330/.338 with four home runs, good for a wRC+ of 90. In his defense, as a left-handed bat, Collins should have only been deployed against righties and not against lefties. However, due to both Lucas Giolito’s and Carlos Rodón’s seemingly insistence to have Collins as their personal catcher at all times, even with Grandal healthy, Collins would sometimes face lefties to his detriment. Regardless, he only slashed .222/.349/.361, good for a wRC+ of 101 against righties in 2021. This is not overly impressive. Despite a credible OBP, his bat is still barely above average by definition.

Seby Zavala, the other main internal candidate, isn’t a much better pick as the back-up catcher either. During his cups of coffee in the majors, Zavala’s pitch framing was good, though nothing incredible either.

On top of that, Zavala’s biggest liability is his bat. Despite his amazing three home run game against Cleveland in July 2021, Seby does not possess the necessary a major league bat. While on the South Side in 2021, Zavala ultimately slashed .183/.240/.376, good for a wRC+ of 66. His minor league numbers aren’t much better. Triple-A Charlotte is known as a hitter friendly bandbox, yet still, the young catcher has not been able to get his OBP to start with at least a “3” or get his SLG to start with at least a “4” in any of his three seasons there.

So if neither Seby Zavala nor Zack Collins are enough to be the White Sox’ back up catcher in 2022, who should? Unfortunately, this is where the real problem begins.

At the beginning of the offseason, before the owners initiated the lock out, I wrote about cheap free agents the Sox should consider. You can read the article in full here. The only free agent catcher worth considering was Manny Piña, which is why he was the only catcher listed in my post. Piña is a good defensive catcher who has a little pop (he hit 13 HRs in 208 PA for Milwaukee last year). Unfortunately, he ended up signing a two-year/$8MM deal with the Atlanta Braves this offseason.

As of this writing, the best catcher free agents are guys like Stephen Vogt and Wilson Ramos. Neither are great options (though I’d still gladly take either over Collins or Zavala). So hear me out. Here’s my creative solution that I know Rick Hahn would never do, yet I’d still like him to do anyways:

Trade for Willson Contreras from the Chicago Cubs.

I’m not sure what exactly the Cubs are doing as a franchise and what direction they want to head in, but considering the fire sale the team had at the trade deadline in 2021, the fact that Contreras will be a free agent after the 2022 season, and how the team signed Yan Gomes to a two-year deal back in December, from an outsider’s perspective, it would make sense for the team to trade their valuable asset. In 2021, Contreras slashed .237/.340/.438, with 21 home runs, good for a wRC+ of 109. This falls in line with his career numbers of .259/.349/.458 and career wRC+ of 114. Defensively, Contreras isn’t anything to write home about, but even average or slightly below average defense with his bat is still a valuable asset.

Contreras is also decently cheap. Because he’s in the last year of arbitration, he’ll only cost the White Sox $7.5MM. That’s definitely a tad pricey for a back-up catcher – for comparison, Gomes will only make $6MM this year. Considering Contreras’ level of production though, and level of production over any possible free agent or internal options, that sounds like money well spent to me. Furthermore, the White Sox window to win a World Series is right now and closing sooner than later, so $7.5 million dollars sounds like a drop in a bucket.

I’m not sure what it will take for the Sox to acquire Contreras. The Cubs accepted kids from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Yu Darvish but accepted major league ready talent like Codi Heuer and Nick Madrigal from the White Sox in exchange for Craig Kimbrel. So who knows what the North Siders actually want or if the Sox even have the attractive talent in their rather lackluster farm system. It very well could be that Contreras may not even be available to acquire. The Cubs’ fire sale was based on a salary dump, and since Contreras’s contract was/is not overly expensive, the Cubs seemingly are fine keeping him around. Though if he is available, I wouldn’t be against Rick Hahn making the call.

Regardless of whether the Chicago White Sox could or should trade for Willson Contreras, I do believe the team needs to find a solution to their back up catcher problem. I do not think the team’s current options of either Zack Collins or Seby Zavala are acceptable, and any creative solution to fix this problem seems worth exploring to me.

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Nic Nicarelli

Thanks for the article. I have a question. The Sox have added several backstops this offseason on minor league deals. Surely I wouldn’t expect any of them to push Yaz to full time DH, but is there any chance one of them is better than Collins/Zavala? Thanks.

Jack Buckley

Zack Collins is brutal, he reminds me of another favorite, Carson Fulmer, he can’t hit or catch, go defense with Seby

Al Rad

Trade them Kimbral back for him!


Sox catchers had -21 DRS and pitchers were -14 DRS We need a good defensive catcher badly! With shift rules it should help a dead pull hitter like Collins a lot. But he both he and Grandal missed a lot of pitchs

Bill O'Brien

Catching should have been a much higher priority. In summary of the 2021 season, the catching was awful! I don’t think the Sox had a quality catcher to work with a pretty good pitching staff. Grandal, an offense first catcher, should spend more time as a backup first baseman and a lefty option at DH. He is a below average major league backstop. Collins and Zavala should never have been called up as they are below average Triple A players. If a good defensive catcher, someone who can actually catch the ball before it rolls to the backstop (Sox led… Read more »

Jimmy B

Why isn’t anyone talking about Raudy Read?

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