The White Sox have some pretty well-defined needs and one starting catcher who’s probably not going anywhere.
But does that mean finding a backup catcher is completely off their off-season to-do list?
It might serve Rick Hahn & Co. well to shop around for a backup to Yasmani Grandal this winter. Last spring, they balked at the idea of backing Grandal up with Zack Collins, opting for a surer defensive presence behind the plate in Reese McGuire. McGuire’s offensive shortcomings and the opportunity to add bullpen arm Jake Diekman meant McGuire was only a half-season solution for the White Sox as the No. 2 catcher, but he earned praise from the pitching staff.
Grandal’s health issues, meanwhile, visibly affected his ability to provide the same type of defensive presence he was when the White Sox signed him to the richest free-agent deal in club history. Long lauded for his framing skills, Grandal’s knee and back problems throughout the past two seasons have obviously impacted his mobility behind the plate.
Grandal should be expected to be healthier when the 2023 season begins, but are the White Sox still prioritizing defense for the spot behind him on their catching depth chart? If so, perhaps an outside addition is needed.
That’s not to bury Seby Zavala, who turned in a fine season with the bat. His OPS-plus of 107 made him an above-average hitter on the campaign. But with defensive improvement all over the field on the White Sox’ to-do list, is this an opportunity for an upgrade?
The answer depends on the availability of other ace behind-the-plate defenders around the league. Zavala wasn’t too bad in that department, ranking 21st among big-league catchers in Defensive Runs Saved. Grandal ranked 106th during an injury-defined season.
Though the White Sox have signaled that adding via trade is more likely than adding via free agency, there are some strong defensive catchers on the latter market, including Christian Vazquez (fifth in DRS) and Austin Hedges (10th). On the trade front, Bruce Levine of Audacy.com reports the White Sox have inquired about Oakland Athletics Catcher, Sean Murphy. Murphy is a two-time finalist for the American League Gold Glove Award and is under team control until 2025. The Blue Jays have already been reported to be looking to trade from their relative wealth of catchers. Alejandro Kirk (sixth) and Danny Jansen (16th) were better defenders than Zavala in 2022.
What Grandal’s body will allow him to do defensively will certainly be a focal point in spring training, and perhaps the White Sox wait until then to determine how great the need is for a better defensive presence than Grandal or Zavala. But if the right backstop is out there to provide more defensive certainty, it’s definitely worth a look from Hahn’s front office.
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