The Detroit Tigers are in a bit of a bind with their situation behind the plate. For starters, the person considered to be their future behind the dish, Jake Rogers, will be out for all of 2022 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Where in the world do they go from here?
Well, the Detroit Tigers have a few solid avenues from which to work. Of course, there’s always the in-house option. Eric Haase, Grayson Greiner, and Dustin Garneau are all under team control for 2022. Otherwise, both the trade and free-agent markets should be rife with strong backstops.
What is the right avenue behind the plate? More or less, it depends on who you ask. It all depends on what they want to value. Is it important to have a strong bat? Or would they prefer a strong receiver?
It’ll most certainly be exciting to see where the Tigers go. Whether they go internal or external, there is no shortage of available and effective catchers that they could find for occupying behind the plate in 2022.
Detroit Tigers could go internal for their future backstop
Eric Haase was pretty much electric with his bat this season. Hitting 22 homers and 12 doubles en route to the fifth best OPS on the team. I mean, how do you even consider taking him out of the lineup? Well, it would likely start with his plate discipline and glove (or lack thereof, on either front).
On the discipline end, his .286 OBP was generally quite bad. He just doesn’t really take any walks. Even worse, his contact is not great at all, especially on breaking balls. According to Baseball Savant, Haase was in the bottom four percent of hitters in Whiff Rate this past year. Further, he had just a .294 SLG% on breaking balls (curveballs, sliders, etc.).
What might be more concerning, though, is his defense. Savant ranks his framing in the bottom eight percent of the league, while Baseball Prospectus places him at 81st in Fielding Runs Above Average for catchers. In simple terms, Haase is just not a very good defender.
That leaves Grayson Greiner and Dustin Garneau, neither of which are considered top-tier players on either offense or defense. That really leaves the Tigers in a rough situation behind the plate. What other avenues could they potentially consider?
The Detroit Tigers could consider trades and free agents.
Although the 2021-2022 free-agent class is light on catchers, the Tigers could consider a couple of notable names as upgrades. Buster Posey is on the market but is likely to stick around San Francisco for as long as he wants, especially if they exercise his option. Otherwise, Mike Zunino (club option), Christian Vazquez (club option), Tucker Barnhart (club option), and Yan Gomes are just a few of the notable catchers available.
The best option is definitely Mike Zunino, who enters free agency barring a decline in his seven million club option with a 4.5 fWAR from 2021 (3rd among catchers, despite playing only 109 games). He hit 33 home runs, had a .559 SLG% and 134 wRC+. He’s also no slouch on defense, ranking 14th in fielding runs above average by Baseball Prospectus.
For a more defensive option, Barnhart and Roberto Perez are both two-time Gold Glove winners that likely won’t be commanding hefty deals. Further, Martin Maldonado is back to free agency, and after the down year he’s had with a bat and his advanced age (35), he could be a cheap veteran receiver.
Finally, the Tigers could always look to the trade market. Max Stassi, Wilson Contrares, and Omar Narvaez are all due to hit free agency in a year, and all three of their current teams (Angels, Cubs, and Brewers) are no strangers to selling off parts when they need to shift directions. The Cubs and Angels, in particular, are in interesting spots, with the former in a full rebuild and the latter potentially heading that direction.
It would be a bold move for the Tigers to take on a rental, but Stassi, Contrares, and Narvaez could all be extended and establish themselves for the next couple of years.
The catcher position will definitely be an interesting one to watch in these next couple of years, especially with prospect Dillon Dingler coming up the pipeline quickly with a lot of hype. Whether they choose to stand pat or move forward, there most certainly won’t be a dull moment.