Where Do We Go From Here? — Catcher (by Rusty S.)

Ed. note: Every year we publish a series of articles entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” in which we analyze what the Braves need to do in order to get better the following year. Here’s the intro to the series.

The Incumbent

Tyler Flowers has an unremarkable career slash line of .232/.302/.384, in 1720 plate appearances spread over 8 seasons.  In 2016, the righty-hitting Flowers went a more respectable .270/.357/.420, his first season in Atlanta.  That included 8 home runs in 281 at bats.

Flowers generated 0.3 WAR in 2016, with a 1.5 oWAR dragged down by a -0.8 dWAR.  In his career, Flowers’ dWAR has generally hovered around the +0.5 mark, but there is no hiding the fact that in 2016 Flowers caught only 3 of 63 base stealers, a hideous 5% rate.  In 2017, Flowers will need to get closer to the 25% – 30% range he exhibited with the White Sox, or this is going to be a problem.

Flowers will be 31 in 2017.  Maybe there is something about Atlanta or the National League that will allow us to ignore his career line and see him maintain something close to his 2016 offensive levels.  However, the more likely bet is that 2017 sees a return to his career norms.

Others

Anthony Recker is another righty-hitting catcher, on his fourth major league team at age 33.  2016 is the first time he’s batted over .215 for a season.  Recker has a .200/284/.350 career slash line, so let’s not get too excited about the .278/.394/.433 line he put up in 112 Atlanta plate appearances.  Recker does appear to have a moderate amount of power, with 18 home runs in 545 career at bats.

In his limited time in Atlanta in 2016 he was assigned 0.6 WAR, in line with his career bests.  He also threw out 22% of attempted base stealers.

We were under the impression that A.J. Pierzynski had retired, but it’s being reported he may try to find a landing spot in 2017. In fairness, this is just the cherry on top of Pierzynski’s retiring in his own inimitable style. There is no evidence that the Braves are interested, nor should there be.

Prospects

Lucas Herbert is the only catcher in mlb.com’s list of top 30 Braves prospects, at number 26. The 19 year old Herbert hit .185 at Rome in 2016, with 8 home runs in 335 at bats.

Free Agents

The Braves seem to be interested in acquiring a catcher, either through free agency or trade.  The top free agent catchers based on 2016 are 30 year old Matt Wieters of Baltimore, and 29 year old Wilson Ramos of Washington. Ramos hit .308 with 22 home runs in 2016, but unfortunately he is out at least the first 2-3 months of 2017 with his second major knee injury. Georgia Tech’s Wieters, who will be 31 in May, posted a 1.7 WAR in 2016, his first season over 0.8 since 2012.

Other catchers the Braves have been tied to include Jason Castro and Nick Hundley. The Astros’ Castro is a lefty hitter who could platoon with Flowers.  Castro will be 31 in June and is coming off of a .210/.307/.377 line in 2016, his 3rd consecutive season around that level.  He caught 24% of prospective base stealers in 2016.  The 33 year old righty-hitting Hundley is coming off of a 0.1 WAR season for Colorado.

The recent signings of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon lead me to believe that the Braves are looking at more of a stopgap approach for 2017.

One thing is clear.  Between the incumbents and the prospects, catching is the most dire component of this organization, and it will have to be addressed before there is a next great Braves team.

★ Support us on Patreon

This is a hobby site made by people who love the Braves. If you would like to support our work, we encourage you to do so using Patreon. Supporting us has benefits for you as well!

Sign Me Up!

100 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here? — Catcher (by Rusty S.)”

  1. Somewhat JC’d from last thread:

    @130

    I really don’t feel that the same team unchanged is a .500 team. Maybe it’s a little better than last year overall, assuming Matt Kemp gets in shape and Swanson continues to develop and Colon and Dickey provide what they’re supposed to, but this is a 70-75 win team as currently constituted. It’s not good enough, and a September run against the league’s 40-man callups doesn’t change that.

    Besides that, a move like this is going to have to be made eventually or this team is not going to get over the hump. I’m sick of this rebuild, and I really don’t see the point in waiting around another year to see what happens. It’s not going to get us anywhere. We’ll be sitting here next Thanksgiving with basically the same problems, even if the team does finish around .500 next year. We’ll still need to make a move like this to get over the hump. I don’t see the point to not going ahead and activating the final portion of this plan, which is to start using some of these prospects in trades to get over the final hurdle.

    I’m not saying we should just start trading prospects willy-nilly, obviously you have to know who you want to keep and who’s expendable, etc. But waiting another year is totally unnecessary and, as it turns out, might be counterproductive, especially moving into the new stadium.

  2. I really don’t feel that the same team unchanged is a .500 team.

    This team is already pretty changed, though. In 2016 Braves gave significant numbers of PAs to Aybar, Pierzynski, Francoeur, Beckham, d’Arnaud, and Daniel Castro. They also had only 1 pitcher throw more than 160 innings and they have just added two.

  3. I hear your point that we performed well in September, but remember that we were also 13-15 in August. And it’s not like we were a .500 team against September callups; we were 18-10 after September 1st. I’m not saying 28 games means you’re a changed team, but with the much better roster we had in the latter part of the year vs. even June/July, it’s hard to think that we are significantly worse than the August/September team.

  4. A couple of non-teenage catching prospects to keep your eye on in the organization are Kade Scivicque and Brett Cumberland.

  5. 18-10 against teams playing out the string and everything already decided. I agree that we pretty much have to be better because we’re not giving AB’s to guys that can’t play, but I have a hard time believing that the offense we saw at the end of 2016 is the new normal.

    If we hit like that in 2017 we’ll win the division…

  6. Seems like a few outlets are connecting Plouffe to the Braves. He would be an upgrade over Garcia, and because of Garcia’s salary, maybe you could trade him for a live arm. Let Plouffe hack it full-time for a few months and then let Ruiz take the left-handed side of a platoon. Plouffe has a .807 OPS lifetime against lefties.

  7. @9 – I agree. Decent bounce back potential, and the only cost is a bit of Coppy’s vaunted financial flexibility for one year. Man, just looked again, and this FA market really does suck.

  8. Plouffe is a lousy defender with exactly league average offense. That sounds familiar..

    Trevor Plouffe .247/.308/.420/.727/ 99 OPS+
    Chris Johnson .275/.313/.404/.717/ 97 OPS+
    Adonis Garcia .274/.307/.430/.737/ 97 OPS+

    And frankly, Garcia has the best glove of the bunch.

  9. I disagree. Before missing half the year with assorted injuries last season (broken rib, oblique, intercostal), Plouffe averaged 3 WAR the previous two seasons. Adonis has never sniffed that.

    At 3rd, Adonis has a better arm, but Plouffe has a much more consistently accurate one as well as much better hands. And frankly, Adonis has 28 errors over basically a full season at 3rd; while I’ll concede the absence of errors doesn’t inherently make you a good defender, having that many pretty much always means you are a bad one.

  10. @6 — That is simply not true. They played six against the Mets, six against the Marlins, and three against the Tigers, all of whom were fighting for their playoff lives and needed every win they could get. Even Washington was still playing for playoff seeding — they were still running out their starters.

    The only team the Braves played in September who you could rightly say had given up was Philadelphia, against whom the Braves swept all six games.

  11. Rio Ruiz just put up a slightly above average season while being one of the youngest players in the IL. He may only end up a platoon guy, but he will certainly be “useful”.

    Rebuilding through prospects is hard on fans — you end up with not only bad teams, but bad, unwatchable teams. Now, however, with the worst behind us is not the time to deviate from the plan! Building with prospects means giving those prospects the chance to succeed — or fail. The first group has already either failed or at least produced far less than hoped; this does not mean the next wave (or the next…or the next) should suffer the same fate. Give our guys some time. I’ll take Aaron Blair’s future over Charlie Morton’s any day.

    I enjoy watching many of the current team, and derive still more joy from the farm. Mortgaging that farm for a puncher’s chance of a wildcard is foolish in the extreme.

  12. In the ESPN writeups of fake trades for all MLB teams, this is ours with the Reds: Dan Straily to the Braves for Austin Riley and Chris Ellis.

  13. @20 – Straily may have a decent career. I would be happy to do that trade except for our dearth of power hitters. If Riley stays at 3rd that is supposedly a position with a logjam, but having players with legitimate 20 to 30 hr power is a glaring need for us. Given that it’s a fake ESPN trade, the chances are barely above 0 of it happening.

  14. Yeah, we’ve already picked up 2 average-ish innings eaters, why surrender prospects to grab another pitcher who will never pitch a playoff game for us and doesn’t even really eat innings?

  15. Who are the key Braves prospects who are exposed to the Rule 5 draft approaching in December? Anyone have a link to a list?

  16. @24 — Key prospects? Essentially none. All of the Braves’ important prospects are either on the 40-man or not eligible. While there’s always a chance the next Dan Uggla is available, the Braves haven’t exposed anyone you would predict would be a loss if they were taken.

  17. Actually, I can’t say he’s a good follow; he constantly tweets @MLB to complain they aren’t covering the Braves favorably enough. But he’s a great bookmark-profile to check on every so often.

  18. @24, most all of the players that we didn’t protect would probably be returned to us at some point even if they were taken in the draft. You can make a case that we should have kept Steve Janas, but our pen is already crowded anyways.

  19. @19: Thanks, Alex. Still not sober, and I drove 160 miles home! (Sorta kidding kids. Never drink and drive 160 miles… or anywhere. But we had a pretty damn good party last night.)

  20. Spoke with a Twins fan today watching football and we went back and forth on this: would anyone here pull the trigger on Berrios and Buxton for Markakis and Julio, straight up?

  21. @31 I would absolutely trade Cakes and Julio for Berrios and Buxton. That would be a tremendously lopsided deal in the Braves’ favor. (It also wouldn’t make any sense from the Twins’ standpoint.) Even if the Braves gave Inciarte and Julio for Berrios and Buxton, the Twins would say no.

  22. Yeah…I don’t know if I feel it’s super lopsided, but I’d probably do it. Buxton’s k percentage rate has been atrocious, and I’m not at all convinced Berrios will be better than Teheran the next 5 years. He was more down of both of them that I was actually, but I’ll admit I haven’t seen much outside the shiny prospect rankings.

  23. I can’t believe no one seems to be excited about us signing Tuffy Gosewisch as a catcher from Arizona. I know he had an off year last year with a .156 batting average, but a .199 career BA and a .522 ops is at least better than several pitchers. Besides, how can you not root for a guy named Tuffy Gosewisch?

  24. I assume we wanted a player/coach in AA and this was the polite way to get him. Its likely he will be dropped from the 40-man next week and we will never think of him again. His name was an 80 on the scouting scale, so I’ll miss him.

  25. Rosenthal:

    John Hart just said on @MLBNetwork that #Braves “not close” on any big SP, added team is mindful of not accelerating rebuild too quickly.

  26. I’m good with being “not close” on a SP. It’s hard to know what we were willing to give up, and this may sound crazy, but I’m looking forward to having one of Wisler/Jenkins/Blair/Whalen getting innings in the 5th spot in 2017 vs. a huge package for essentially 2 years of Sale. Yes, he’s signed for 3 years, but 2017 will be a waste. If you deal Newcomb, it’s very possible by 2018 you’re looking at a lopsided trade of 12-14 cost-controlled WAR from Newcomb vs. 7-8 remaining WAR for Sale (plus his salary). Then whatever happens with whomever else you’d give up (go ahead and explode those numbers for Albies, but even someone down the line like Riley), and that could be a terrible trade before we ever play a playoff game.

  27. RE: Sickels

    Wow. He started off his research by tweeting that he was underwhelmed with our system, but he had some very glowing remarks and grades for the totality of the system. You have a top-20 of all Grade B and up prospects (have we ever had that?), and some of his C+’s could end up having solid careers: Minter, Peterson, definitely, and even Ellis, Dirks, Morris, and Ruiz could have decent careers. He was a little lower on Minter than I would have expected, but the fact that they treated him with kid gloves in AA this year tells you that he may need an extra half season before he’d be considered a top prospect. He’s got 6 of his top 20 being in Atlanta in 2017, and while he doesn’t list arrival in non-top-20’s, you’d expect Ruiz, Ellis, and Peterson to maybe be around at some point too.

  28. I agree. Once I bought into the rebuild, I’d like to see it play out. At least to the extent that the top prospects have spent a year in AA. Until then, I don’t think anyone can assess their ML potential.

  29. Rob describes my problems with all the proposed deals for Sale and Archer: they concentrate on the potential value we get while ignoring what we give up. While I don’t want to over value prospects, all the proposed packages in the press have been terrible deals.

    As example, per fangraphs, Archer has about $120-130 million surplus value over the course of his contract. Of course, they are assuming no catastrophic injury or major decline to get to that number. Now, one proposal had us giving up Albies, Newk, Acuna and “2 or more other pieces” in return. Albies floor is what? 2WAR/year? Isn’t that about $80M in surplus all by itself? Adding Newk (assuming 1WAR/year as a reliever) is another $35M — and we’ve already paying too much. This analysis doesn’t even consider the possibility Albies and Newkcome closer to their ceilings!

    Other proposals have Toussaint and Allard as minor throw ins. As we actually paid about $10M for Touki back when he was walking the park, doesn’t he rate for far more now? We gave Allard $4M in a favorable deal in the controlled environment of the draft — and he did nothing last year except increase that value.

    We will not be able to use all of our prospects at the MLB level: some will bust, some will be traded. I’m cool with that. Let’s just make sure that when we do trade them we get equal return. Chris Sale will not be a 7 WAR pitcher in 2019.

  30. The Braves hired every pitching coach known to mankind this offseason. Let them work their magic for 2017, then let’s reconsider what we have.

    Of course, if anybody wants to give us their ace, it would be prudent to consider a reasonable deal.

  31. Oh I’m probably alone on this, but I don’t value Sale at anywhere near the talked about prices. He’s an ace about like Julio Teheran is an ace–mind you, Teheran is younger. I don’t dislike Sale. I want the next Greg Maddux though. When he becomes available, then we can talk about trading Albies and Newcomb, etc.

  32. @43

    I think you’re highlighting the uniquely significant appreciation that our prospects have earned over the last 12 months. I had said last year that we’d ideally be sitting with a much deeper, higher-end farm system as a result of the inevitable appreciation. Here we are with extremely minimal attrition and stagnation. I think you can count on one hand the prospects that have been included in most top-30 sheets that moved backwards or, at the very least, didn’t appreciate significantly. Coppy probably doesn’t want to turn all of that good work into a short-sighted run at a Wild Card game. Considering the “we’re not breaking up the ’27 Yankees” and “we haven’t won a playoff game since 2003” comments, it’d be out of character to make a crazy deal like that.

  33. Lot of plaudits for Travis Demeritte this fall. Here’s another:

    It seems everything Demeritte hit was loud. He has a knack for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball and using the entire field. He makes good contact and drives the ball. He doesn’t get cheated at the plate, hitting the ball to the gaps and running well. Fine on defense as well. I saw him make several leaping catches to rob the hitter of a base hit.

    http://www.fanragsports.com/mlb/bernie-pleskoffs-arizona-fall-league-team/

  34. I think you wait and see where we are at the break and then decide how aggressive to be with regards to trading prospects.

    Our everyday lineup doesn’t scream “win now” to me. But if a few things fall into place I can definitely see us staying near .500

  35. @45 — If Sale isn’t an ace, only Clayton Kershaw is.

    “Needs to be as good as Greg Maddux” is a high standard to put your number one to.

  36. Apologies if this has been discussed earlier but I really feel the team should sign Ramos this winter. He’s the best catcher available and even if he’s expected to miss most of ’17 do we really think the Braves are going to make the playoffs? He won’t cost a draft pick and is still 29.

    The Jason Castro rumors leave me uninspired. Let’s hope somebody else signs him.

  37. Teheran was 25th in fWAR last year. Sale was 7th. I don’t think Teheran gets the credit he deserves, but Sale is definitely a game changer. Interestingly, Jose Quintana was 10th in WAR, and while I’m sure I’m not the only person who knows that, it would be nice for the Braves to be able to pull off a deal for him. He’s signed through club options that take him through 2020 ($7M -> $8.85M -> $10.5M -> $10.5M). That’s the guy to put a farm-gutting offer for.

  38. @55 Ramos, with his injury history and injury present, is a ‘high variance’ guy if ever there was one. He was great last year (3.5 fWAR in 131 games) but he is now 29 years old and 2016 was his best season by far… Ramos totaled only 6.5 fWAR from 2011 – 2015, including a miserable .229/.258/.358 slash line (and 0.4 fWAR) in 2015.

    Ramos would be a good signing for an AL team who could give him time at C and DH. As an Catcher-only player, you could probably only pencil him in as a 2.0 WAR guy per season – that’d be an improvement over what the Braves have at present, but not a big one (maybe .5-1 WAR better than Flowers/Recker?). More importantly, however, Ramos will soon be on the wrong side of age 30 and is not the kind of player the team could plausibly build around as the new-look Braves comes together.

    TL;DR – I’d just stick with Flowers/Recker for now.

    @58 fWAR for pitchers is based on xFIP, so it marginally overrates guys who traditionally have ERAs higher than their xFIP while marginally underrating the rare xFIP-beaters like Teheran. That said, both Sale and Quintana were objectively better than Teheran in 2015 and 2016.

  39. Wilson Ramos
    successfully told his kidnappers, Vamos!
    called Coppy and claimed, ipso facto,
    were I on the DL you would not-our pact- owe.

  40. @52 He must be, because I wouldn’t fork over 2 of my top 10 prospects for him. I don’t let fWAR dictate my appreciation of players. In order for him to be better than I think he is, that would mean he’s a lights out ace, no?

  41. I’d be giddy if Sale was a Brave. I just think that we might have a couple of guys pretty close to his quality in a few years.

  42. @62 Yeah, I think the Sox get a Miller-type deal if not a shade better. He’s worth it, just not the Braves right now.

  43. Uh, Minnesota, I’m pretty sure that’s not how rebuilding works.

    Roger McDowell has signed on as the Orioles’ pitching coach, if anyone was curious.

  44. What’s with this shuttling of pitching coaches between Atlanta and Baltimore? Mazzone to Baltimore. Chiti went from Atlanta to Baltimore and back to Atlanta. Dave Wallace went from Atlanta to Baltimore and back to Atlanta. McDowell to Baltimore. I guess Chiti and Wallace have some sort of circumstances surrounding Frank Wren’s departure, but still, weird.

  45. @67 Eight million a year for three seems about perfect for that stage. Could have value with the young guys and that’s about as cheap as a competent major-leaguer comes these days.

  46. It’s surprising that they weren’t able to get Castro. Did he simply choose Minnesota over Atlanta, or should we assume that the Braves didn’t offer 3/$24M? Based on what is happening, perhaps there’s a trade for a long-term catcher out there.

  47. I’m pretty underwhelmed on Weiters. I’d rather major on defense than offense at catcher, and if we really need to upgrade the lineup, do something at third. We’re short-changing the rebuild to put an offense-first catcher behind the dish.

  48. It is indeed curious that the Braves weren’t able to sign Jason Castro if all it took from the Twins was 3/$24. Wieters is a marginally better hitter than Castro but not by any great margin, and framing statistics (if they are to be believed) reflect that Castro is excellent at framing pitches while Wieters is substandard.

    For those interested, here’s a resource for catcher framing numbers. Castro consistently rates as one of the better framers in the game, and Wieters as one of the worst. Interestingly, Tyler Flowers rates even better than Castro 2015-16.

    If I were the Braves, I wouldn’t go any higher than 2/$20M with a team option for Wieters, and I’d probably pass on signing him at all unless the years and dollars turned out to be very reasonable.

  49. Flowers may “frame” pitches well, but he is a terrible defensive catcher. I saw Sid Bream steal second on him.

    I wouldn’t have given Castro three years either. The guy can barley hit and chances are he will only get worse.

  50. I would have made the Castro contract at that. If he only starts against righthanders he is a so so hitter for a catcher. If Flowers only starts against lefthanders, he is a slight plus offensively for a catcher. That platoon is probably at least a 2 to maybe a 3 WAR platoon. Then, that gives you 2 years to see what is happening with the prospects and go get somebody else if you have to (with 3 on Castro and Flowers having another year as an option year).

    PLUS, I don’t see another option to help. We need any catching help on April 1. The Ramos thing doesn’t make sense. I agree that Wieters is barely better than Castro, but with Boras he won’t sign until late unless somebody throws stupid money on the table. The Braves don’t need to wait on Boras. Trades are iffy. It is POSSIBLE to get this worked out in a trade, but why wait on that and why give up any prospects when pure money could have solved the problem.

  51. They’re going to have to upgrade catcher at some point. You don’t have playoff-caliber offense at RF, CF, 2B, and 3B. If you don’t hit the ball hard from catcher, they need to make a move somewhere.

  52. We don’t have playoff-caliber offense from CF??? A 98 OPS+ is better than half of last year’s postseason clubs

  53. Dbacks twitter page just posted this

    The #Dbacks have acquired pitcher Taijuan Walker and infielder Ketel Marte from the Mariners for Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis.

  54. @83 Great. Sounds like Chris Sale should dictate his trade to the Braves. We know all about keeping a catcher on the roster just for our ace. :)

  55. @87 — “A borderline All-Star and 4-5 WAR guy” is overselling Segura. He was horrid in 2014 and 2015. It would not surprise me a bit if he was horrid again next year, in which case the D-Backs sold high. And even if he’s genuinely improved, he only has two years of control left — I doubt that Arizona is making any hay while they have him.

    It’s a defensible trade, I think — certainly no Miller/Swanson or Gosselin/Toussaint.

  56. Rodriguez is a perfectly cromulent addition to most teams as long as you’re not looking at him and saying “Ah, yes, our new starting _____,” which it doesn’t appear they’re doing. He fills in a lot of holes on the roster without needing to be The Solution at any of them.

  57. Exactly. I didn’t expect it because I didn’t think the Braves would pump money into position players, but it’s a very good signing. Freddie’s backup, against LHPs at 2B, backup 3B, backup LF. He probably won’t duplicate his 1.9 WAR (in 342 PAs!), .856 OPS season last year, but he should be plenty valuable in his role. Plus, WAR doesn’t quantify the benefit of flexibility in one roster spot. Snitker now has two guys who can play all over the diamond, and they hit from different sides of the plate (Rodriguez and Jace). I like it.

  58. Barring trade, the only reason issue now is the second backup INF and backup catcher.

    Flowers
    Recker
    Freddie
    Jace
    Rodriguez
    Dansby
    Adonis
    Kemp
    Ender
    Mallex
    Markakis
    Ruiz?
    FA SS Caddy for Dansby?

    Because of the flexibility, they could decide to get someone very offense-first off the bench and not have to worry about the defensive abilities of that player. That helps us over other teams who can’t put a player like that on their 25-man. The position players are not bad at all.

  59. From Bowman:

    “Rodriguez’s addition seemingly erases the possibility of the Braves bringing Jeff Francoeur back this year to serve as a backup outfielder and right-handed option off the bench.”

    This signing is worth every cent of it.

  60. I’d be OK if we signed KJ and Frenchy every winter and traded them to the Mets and/or Marlins every summer until the Sun is a darkened cinder wandering a frigid universe, just before the Bobby Bonilla contact ends.

  61. I mentioned Rodriguez as a possibility in the WDWGFH? – Second Base post. At 31, I expect the most likely case is that he reverts to his career norms; 2016 was a pretty large outlier. But, the second most likely scenario is that he settles somewhere between his career norms and his 2016. In a right-handed platoon with Jace Peterson (if they use him that way) he could make second base the least terrible of our black hole positions (2B, 3B, C) until Albies is ready.

    For the price, his versatility is probably worth having, if we’re not expecting him to play a starting role the season the Braves decide to compete again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *