Today’s AJC included 860 words regarding the Atlanta Braves’ pursuit of a No. 1 catcher, which general manager John Coppolella has described as ongoing on a daily if not hourly basis. (Note that the Braves have started Anthony Recker, a 32-year-old journeyman bought from Cleveland in May, the past two games.) Therein we discussed the possibility of trading for Jonathan Lucroy or Brian McCann or signing Wilson Ramos as a free agent. Today we add to the verbiage — apologies in advance — and consider a few other scenarios.
Matt Wieters: He played at Georgia Tech, as we know, and has made the All-Star team four times, this year included. But he’s 30, and last fall he became that rarity — a free agent who actually accepts his team’s one-year qualifying offer. That was because he’d had Tommy John surgery — hey, catchers have arms, too — in 2014 and hadn’t done much since returning.
Wieters will again become a free agent this November, which means the Braves could pursue him. (There was some thought they’d take a run last fall, but him taking the Orioles’ qualifying offer quashed that.) But he’s making $15.8 million this year and his agent is Scott Boras and, even in something of a bounce-back season, Wieters hasn’t stamped himself as the catcher of any team’s future.
Over his first four big-league seasons, Wieters posted an aggregate WAR value of 12.4, which is strong for a catcher. Over the past four, his WAR is 2.6. This season he’s at 0.5 according to Baseball-Reference. He’s at 0.7 per FanGraphs — yes, there are varying formulas for WAR –but that still puts him 16th among MLB catchers with 200 plate appearances. His WRC+ (weighted runs created with park effect considered) is 86 — 100 is league-average.
If you’re the Braves, do you want to pay upwards of $16 million for a 30-year-old catcher with an injury history who hasn’t been very good since 2012? (By way of comparison, McCann is due $17 million each of the next two seasons.) There’s no doubt Wieters is better than anything the Braves have at/near the big-league level, but he’d be an awfully pricey placeholder.
Derek Norris: He has fallen off a statistical cliff this season, but he’s 27 and can’t become a free agent until 2019. (He’s making $2.9 million this season, after which he’ll be eligible for arbitration.) He’s hitting .208 with an on-base percentage of .268 now, but with Oakland in 2014 he hit .270 with an OBP of .361. A bargain shopper might start here. Padres GM A.J. Preller hasn’t fared well in previous trades with the Braves, but this time would be different: He’d be getting prospects in return.
Jason Castro: Once a staple of the Astros’ massive rebuilding, he has slipped to the extent that they mightn’t want him back. (He’ll become a free agent this fall.) He had a 4.5 WAR in 2013, his All-Star season; he has a 4.0 WAR in the 2 1/2 years since. If the Astros themselves are seeking an upgrade, they’ve got prospects to spare. Indeed, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported in the spring that the Braves had engaged in three-way talks with the Brewers and Astros, which could have entailed Lucroy going to Houston and Castro coming here. I can’t imagine the Braves would trade for Castro two months before he hits free agency, but they might be interested once he does.
In-house options: We mentioned Brett Cumberland, the 21-year-old taken out of Cal with the 76th pick of the June draft; he’s hitting .179 in rookie ball. Last year the Braves took Lucas Herbert, then an 18-year-old high schooler, with the 54th pick; he’s hitting .189 in Class A. They signed Abrahan Guttierrez, a 16-year-old Venezuelan, earlier this month. At last report, they were working on his visa. In sum, none of these guys is anywhere closer to ready.
Getting exotic: If we’ve learned anything about Coppolella, it’s that he’s capable of great creativity. (Think Touki Toussaint. Think the Johnson-for-Bourn-and-Swisher swap of bad contracts with Cleveland. Think Swanson/Inciarte/Blair for Shelby Miller, who’s now in the minor leagues.) Might he try to use some of his pitching prospects to acquire someone else’s top catching prospect? Sure he might. If nothing else works, I’m pretty sure he will.
Further reading: Will SunTrust Park be a boon or a boondoggle?