Detroit Tigers: Filling the Hole at Catcher to Complement James McCann
In 2016, there was a clear weakness in the Detroit Tigers catchers spot. With James McCann coming back and Jarrod Saltalamacchia not, the Tigers need to find someone good.
The Detroit Tigers have options to choose from, but the pickin’s are slim.
The good thing about most of the catchers who are available is that most are rather affordable.
Currently, the Tigers’ roster has two catchers on it: McCann and John Hicks. Other than a handful of games with the Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins, and one September call-up game with the Tigers, he has spent nearly all of his career in the Minor Leagues. He is a product of Goochland, Virginia where he attended the same high school that Justin Verlander and his brother attended.
Hicks by the Numbers
Hicks has numbers that aren’t bad, but he has so little experience in the MLB that it is difficult to judge what he would really do if he were permanently moved up. His overall batting stats include .282 BA, .330 OBP, .418 SLG, and .748 OPS. He has hit 10 home runs in his 1932 at-bats since 2011. His fielding isn’t bad. As a catcher, he has thrown out 46% of the batters who attempted to steal on him. He can play other positions, like first and third. He’s even run around the outfield in a few minor league games. His biggest problem is that he is a right-handed hitter.
McCann by the Numbers
McCann wasn’t anything special offensively or defensively in 2016. His offensive numbers were unfortunate. He finished 2016 with a BA of .221, OBP of .272, SLG of .358, and OPS of .629. These numbers were worse than his 2015 season. McCann did improve his home run numbers, hitting 12 in 2016 to his 7 in 2015. His oWar was 0.2 – meh. He was a good catcher, but not a great catcher, other than his ability to throw out runners. The “McCannon” threw out 45% of the runners who tried to steal on him. His biggest problem is that he is a right-handed hitter who has trouble hitting right-handed pitching – and so many pitchers are right-handed.
So, the Tigers really need a catcher who can hit. While catchers are not necessarily known for being big hitters, there are catchers who can get on base more often than McCann can.
Former Tigers Catchers on the Market
There are a handful of catchers available on the free agent market that the Tigers know well. They include Alex Avila, Bryan Holaday, Brayan Pena, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. All of these men can hit from the left side with the exception of Holaday, whose batting numbers are worse than McCann’s are. Pena had a sad season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016, but his career numbers are a little better than McCann’s: .259 BA, .299 OBP, .351 SLG, and .650 OPS. Pena is not a power hitter, but he can hit right-handed pitching and he did well during the few years he was catching for the Cincinnati Reds.
It is safe to say that Saltalamacchia and Avila will not be wearing the Old English D in 2017.
Other Free Agent Options
Who else is out there? The big free agent name is Matt Wieters, who was a four-time All Star with the Baltimore Orioles. He entered free agency after making $15 million with the Orioles, so don’t expect the Tigers to add him.
Chris Gimenez, who was formerly with the Cleveland Indians, is also available. But, he is a right-handed hitter, too. His splits are similar to McCann’s – right-handed pitchers are harder for him to hit, too.
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Welington Castillo, who played with the Chicago Cubs for most of his career, is another somewhat inexpensive option. He made $3.7 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is less expensive than Alex Avila and he hits better, too. His numbers are slightly better than McCann’s and he hits both right- and left-handed pitchers within .020. He is a right-handed hitter, too.
Another $3 million catcher who is available is Nick Hundley, who has played 8 of his 9 years in the National League. He, too, is a right-handed hitter. Hundley has an OPS of .684 against right-handed pitchers and an OPS of .923 against lefties. The odds are good that he is not even on the radar of the Tigers because of these numbers.
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Not one of these veteran catchers throws out runners at the same intensity and success as McCann, which is why he is an asset to the Tigers. But, unless the Tigers can find a catcher who can hit right-handed hitting, that spot in the batting order is practically a guaranteed out nearly 80% of the time.