The Chicago Cubs are looking for a “defense-first catcher,” reports Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, with Mooney linking the team to free agents Curt Casali, Tucker Barnhart, and Roberto Perez. Michael Cerami of Bleacher Nation has also recently connected the club to Barnhart in a platoon role with incumbent Yan Gomes.
The Cubs currently only have two catchers on their 40-man roster, prospect Miguel Amaya, who reached Double-A Tennessee in 2022 and is projected to debut during the 2023 season, and 11-year veteran Gomes. Gomes, who signed a two-year, $13MM deal during the 2021 offseason, with a $6MM player option for the 2024 season, hit .235/.260/.365 in a complementary role to All-Star Willson Contreras during his first season in Chicago.
Nevertheless, the recent additions of Dansby Swanson, Jameson Taillon, Brad Boxberger, and Cody Bellinger, along with their reported re-signing of Drew Smyly, signal an intent to compete in 2023 after finishing third in their division last season. With the free agent catcher market rapidly shrinking, Casali, Barnhart, and Perez profile as veteran regulars that won’t command long-term contracts and delay Amaya’s promotion.
Casali was limited to only 57 games during the 2022 season, spending time on the injured list with a concussion and right oblique strain. Over 176 plate appearances, the 34-year-old hit a weak .203/.318/.331 with a high 28.4% strikeout rate but a strong 13.6% walk rate. Casali is a career .223/.316/.392 hitter over parts of nine seasons and is credited with 16 defensive runs saved since 2014, in addition to throwing out 32% of runners and drawing positive marks for his framing ability.
Barnhart joined the Tigers via trade after the 2021 season and struggled to a .221/.287/.267 slash line with a 24% strikeout rate and 8.1% walk rate in 2022. It’s a sharp drop off from his career numbers of .245/.320/.360, and his strong 2017 showing (.270/.347/.403) is slowly becoming a distant memory. Like Casali, Barnhart is typically viewed positively for his defensive ability, earning a total of 12 DRS over nine seasons, despite being credited -8 DRS during the 2022 season, while throwing out 32% of runners. Barnhart also ranks highly for his framing ability.
Perez suffered a left hamstring strain in early May and was forced to undergo season-ending surgery later in the month. It marks the second consecutive injury-ravaged year for Perez, who was limited to only 44 games with Cleveland during the 2021 season due to a pair of IL stints (a fractured right finger and shoulder inflammation). Like Casali and Barnhart, Perez is a glove-first catcher, with a meager career slash line of .207/.298/.360, but he has accumulated a whopping 79 DRS since 2014 while throwing out 39% of would-be runners and possesses a highly regarded framing ability.
The Cubs’ will likely struggle to fill Contreras’s offensive production from the catching position, but the franchise will hope that recent additions of Swanson and Bellinger, as well as prospects Brennen Davis and Matt Mervis settling in at the Major League level, will help fill the All-Star size hole behind the dish at Wrigley Field.