With the first two-months of the off-season now all but in the rearview mirror, one aspect that warrants a deeper-dive is that of the catcher market. In the short two months since the end of the World Series, big name catchers, catchers with plenty of talent and success have been traded from the National League to the American League. Let’s take a look at the trio, their value, the trades that moved them, and how they all stack up moving forward.
- Devin Lewis: The 26 year-old has played in just 155 games at the MLB level, amassing 101 starts after sharing catching duties in Washington with Ed Palmer. In his brief MLB career, Lewis has shown great talent with his bat as well as his glove, helping manage the Nationals staff to a tune of a 3.64 team ERA in games with Lewis behind the plate. Washington, a ballpark with some hitter-friendly dimensions saw Lewis hit even better on the road than at home. He will earn the league minimum in 2022 before likely hitting arbitration in 2023 with Super-Two status. He remains under team control through 2026.
- Jed McKinley: The 2019 National League MVP was a cornerstone in Colorado for each of the past five seasons. In those five-full years, McKinley has hit 23 or more homers in each season. A career .305/.382/.505 player at the big-league level, who has thrown out 31.6% of would-be base-stealers, while managing the Rockies pitchers to a team ERA of 4.00, a feat in Colorado. McKinley’s career is filled with success, but no year stands as close to 2019, a season in which he hit .364 (only season above .300)/.434/.563. That season, McKinley posted a BABIP of .402 for the entire season. One thing to watch moving forward will be his how his bat, specifically the power, translates to Seattle. 60% of his career homers have come at Coors Field. At home, he hit a homer once every 15.5 at-bats, while on the road it was once every 26.7 at-bats. McKinley is set to make $16,360,000 this season, and just over $35 million between 2023 and 2024 before a potential player opt-out and team option decision before a $20,000,000 2025.
- Braulio Pardo: The “eldest statesman” of the bunch, Pardo, a former MVP as well, turned 35 this past post-season as he watched from home in Tampa, Florida. Pardo is a switch-hitting machine who pairs a tremendous work-ethic with lots of God given ability to be a feared hitter every time he digs into the box. Unlike McKinley and Lewis, Pardo has spent his career in a pitcher friendly park and on a team that struggled mightily last year. Has Pardo’s recent decline in power been related to the decline in other factors or a decline in his ability to hit homers? The eye allows him to remain a strong bat either way. Defensively, at the more advanced age, the prospects of him being an every-day catcher are a bit limited. He has 3-years at $21,500,000 per year remaining before a player option for 2025 at that same amount.
San Francisco Trades: Braulio Pardo (30% retained)
Toronto Trades: SP Armando Garcia (R), SP John David Carlton (R), OF Zachary Evans (R), 2B Miguel Hiraldo (A-)
After the front-office change in San Francisco, it did not take long for the new staff to move Braulio Pardo. The combination of his age, his contract, and his potential positional limitations, the number of teams that made sense for Pardo to go to were limited, but he ended up going to perhaps the team that made the most sense. With Miguel Cabrera gone, the Blue Jays added Pardo giving them the ability to split time behind the plate for Charlie Cutler and Pardo, while being able to keep the other in the lineup at DH.
In return for Pardo, the Giants netted at the time one top 100 prospect in Armando Garcia (44), along with three others in the top 12 of the Jays organization. Garcia, now sits at #68 on the top 100 list. At 19 years of age, he is known for a four-pitch arsenal, (OSA: 60/65/55/60) that shows good stuff (60), along with solid movement potential (55), and control (60). He’s very raw, having shown big struggles above Rookie ball in 2021. Some wonder if the lack of control he has shown in the minors will translate to 60 control down the road.
John David Carlton was taken by the Jays in the 4th round of this past draft out of Miami Spring HS. The 18 year-old lefty was drafted on potential. A top 400 prospect, Carlton does not have strong velo at this point in time (89-91 MPH), but it’s his ability to move the ball around the zone and keep hitters off balance that leaves him as an exciting prospect in the eyes of scouts. The slider helps Carlton to a 60 movement report, but is there enough stuff moving forward?
Zachary Evans has plus speed and ability on the base-paths, terrific knowledge patrolling the outfield, and a swing that leaves scout thinking he can put the ball in play at an MLB capable clip down the line. Injuries sidelined Evans for nearly the entire 2021 season slowing his development. A player who down the line could be a good fit in the large outfield of San Francisco.
Miguel Hiraldo is a former international amateur free-agent who swings freely. Many love the frame of the 6’4″, 215 pound infielder, but many also wonder about his future. He doesn’t show enough power for that body or that long swing that led to 120 strikeouts in 454 at-bats (26 walks).
Washington Trades: Devin Lewis
Detroit Trades: Victor Robles OF (ML), George Valera OF (A+), Tommy Bartlett 1B/OF (A+)
The Nationals made the decision, it was time to allow Ed Palmer, Loren Rorgers, and Matthew Grace the freedom to play without thinking about Devin Lewis.
In return for Lewis, the Nationals picked up Victor Robles who was coming off of his rookie year in Detroit in which he hit .260/.314/.463 while successfully stealing 22 bases on 28 attempts. A player in the mold of fellow Nationals outfielder Roberto Lopez, Robles offers cheap and controlled value for a team that needed just that while paying money to get rid of Moose and continuing to pay Rymer Liriano above $20,000,000 a season. [And since adding another big contract in Cesar Lopez.]
Entering the off-season, neither George Valera nor Tommy Barlett ranked among the top 30 prospects within the Tigers system. Barlett currently clocks in at #17 in the Nationals system as the team’s 7th-best outfield prospect. The 22 year-old outfielder from Blackfoot, Idaho has an upper-cut swing that could some day show big-league plus pop, but after hitting .199/.293/.312 in 199 games (743 AB’s) at the A ball level, many doubt Bartlett’s abilities of advancing far up the system.
In George Valera, the Nationals get a player who has had success in the minors after playing well for both Lakeland and Western Michigan. Above average speed and defensive ability, a gap hitter, Valera has room to grow and develop further. A player some scouts believe can make a climb to the bigs down the line, while others worry about his contact (OSA: 50). He comes in at #41 on the Nationals prospect chart.
Colorado Trades: Jed McKinley
Seattle Trades: Hunter Brown SP (A+), Jim Lawrence P (A), Michael Wright OF/P (A), Billy Madden C (R), Terry Miller SS (AAA)
The Christmas Eve trade that surprised many. Like San Francisco, a new regime in Colorado meant the Rockies were open for business. The disappointing end to 2021 brought a new GM looking to make changes. The trade block was open to just about anyone and with that came this deal.
Hunter Brown began the off-season rising up the Mariners prospect report. At the time of being traded, he came in as the team’s 11th-best prospect and 346th overall. At 22 years of age, Brown like many his age, shows a four-pitch arsenal with elite velocity in a fastball that touches 99 on the gun. In 73 innings of action this past season, he struck out 76 and walked just 13 in 73 innings. The biggest knock on Brown is his movement, many feel that the fastball at times is too straight and it can lead to too many homers being hit off of a him, yet he has allowed just 7 homers in 141 minor-league innings. There is not a long track record of MLB Pro SP at the big-league level with OSA graded 45 movement, but the stuff plays.
Jim Lawrence has made the smooth transition to the bullpen over the last two seasons. In 47 innings serving as a reliever, Lawrence has struck out 67 batters, walked just 15, has allowed a mere 25 hits, and 9 earned runs. With OSA graded 80 stuff that reaches the upper 90’s, he has the versatility to be a late inning reliever or a more often used middle guy. The intriguing piece on Lawrence is the OSA graded 65 sinker and how that might come into play if he were to stay in Colorado long term.
Billy Madden is a catching prospect who follows in the mold of Shea Langeliers who was acquired by Colorado in the Bregman trade. Madden is a defense first catcher with a bat that needs improvement. Madden is four-plus years younger that Langeliers and could see a rise in the prospect rankings (currently unranked / Langeliers 133) down the line.
Michael Wright is the final piece of this trade with value. The question is, where is that value? An arm injury kept him from pitching as a senior in high-school but earlier in his career he showed a three-pitch mix of decent to good stuff, with average MLB control. As a hitter, Wright has elite power potential with OSA graded 70 power (to go with an alarming 45 contact and 40 strikeout potential).
The final piece to this trade was Terry Miller. An infielder who possess little (to no) trade value on paper, but is someone who could serve in a Barry Crocker type MLB-level role. Crocker, noted for his .083/.175/.083 spring training last year was claimed by Boston in April and went on to be a near 0 WAR player in the bigs last year. That is Terry Miller’s ceiling.
The Trades Part II
We took a look at who these players were traded for, now it’s worth revisiting a second to see who these players were not traded for.
In acquiring Pardo, the Blue Jays were able to keep Mackenzie Gore out of the trade. Additionally, top 200 prospects Austin Hendrick and Thomas Hershiser were not needed to acquire Pardo. A bevy of pitchers with better stuff than Carlton were passed over in the eyes of the Giants.
In acquiring Lewis, the Tigers package centered around the MLB talent of Victor Robles. In doing so, their bevy of young prospect talent was kept in tact.
In acquiring McKinley, the Mariners were not asked to give up Matthew Thompson or Cole Kendall. Kendall’s bat would have been a sizable upgrade over Billy Madden. One question that perhaps came up with this negotiation that might have led to no Matthew Thompson could have been Thomspon vs. Brown + Lawrence. It all gets back to Brown’s ability to keep the ball in the park down the line. On-field success vs. the eyes of scouts, it will be telling in Brown’s development and use in years to come.
To begin, I feel the Giants did what they had to do, while the Rockies and Nationals made a decision at a point in time where other options might have been more prudent.
San Francisco, stuck in the NL West with aging talent needed to find Pardo a new home. For an organization that had a barren farm system, they needed to restock and Pardo was the one to use. Yes, perhaps there was a way forward to grab Mackenzie Gore, but that’s something only those within the deal will know. It set things in motion.
For Washington, they were stuck between a rock and a hard place. Ed Palmer and Devin Lewis simply could both not play behind the plate. Devin Lewis at first made sense, but the organization loves Matthew Grace as he approaches the big leagues. With a terrific and deep rotation and a desire to win now, they grabbed a big league piece that made sense to them. As Ed Palmer approaches big numbers in arbitration (for two more years), perhaps some would have moved him over Lewis. But moving a franchise favorite is tough to do and Lewis was the odd-man out. Now if the designated-hitter were to soon come to the NL in 2023, a decision that could leave Washington fans bitter.
Finally, McKinley. Trading Jed is a tough pill to swallow. The Rockies have been so close to winning it all and on paper remain as good as any in the NL. But when the new regime saw the key injuries Arizona dealt with last year, I think there was a realization that Colorado was headed for the Wild Card again. The team can find offense with Coors Field, by finding a defensive oriented catcher, solidifying the pitching (talent is there, success on the field last year was not), perhaps they can manufacture wins. Hunter Brown and Jim Lawrence are talented arms. Was there likely a better deal down the line for McKinley? I believe so.