HOUSTON – The fast-moving catcher’s market has seen a couple of notable names come off the board already this offseason, with Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox and Travis d’Arnaud with the Braves. The Astros, of course, are in the market for a starting catcher with Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado both free agents.
Tuesday’s signing of journeyman Dustin Garneau provides some depth at the position but leaves the Astros still searching for a starter at the position. Garneau, 32, appeared in 35 games last season, splitting his time between the Angels and Athletics. He hit .244 with five doubles, three home runs, 14 RBIs and a .350 on-base percentage in 27 starts. One of his homers came off Gerrit Cole in July.
Originally a 19th-round Draft pick by the Rockies in 2009, Garneau has appeared in 123 career Major League games with the Rockies (2015-17), A’s ('17, '19), White Sox ('18) and Angels ('19).
Garneau joins Garrett Stubbs as the only catchers on Houston’s 40-man roster. The Astros drafted University of California catcher Korey Lee in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft and USC catcher C.J. Stubbs -- the brother of Garrett -- in the 10th round as they try to restock their catching depth at the upper levels.
Still, they have an immediate need for a starting backstop in 2020, so here are some names to keep in mind with the Winter Meetings approaching:
• Robinson Chirinos: Bringing back the popular Chirinos may be the safest and most logical move for the Astros. In his only season in Houston in 2019, Chirinos, 35, hit .238 with 17 homers and 58 RBIs while setting a career high for games played (114). He posted a respectable .790 OPS, including .915 against lefties, and hit two home runs in the World Series. Chirinos, who was slightly above average defensively, served as Justin Verlander’s personal catcher and was respected and trusted by the pitching staff.
• Jason Castro: A former first-round pick by the Astros who spent the last three seasons in Minnesota after six in Houston, Castro is one of the top remaining free agents on the market. Considering he’s worked with several pitchers on staff, including Lance McCullers Jr., and lives in Houston, a return to the Astros would represent a comfortable landing spot for Castro. He posted a .767 OPS last year in 79 games, hitting .232 with a .332 on-base percentage and 13 homers. He wouldn’t be the splashiest signing, but he can handle a pitching staff and will give competitive at-bats.
• Austin Romine: A free agent for the first time in his career, Romine, 31, aims to land a starting job after backing up All-Star Gary Sanchez the past couple of years with the Yankees. He had one of his best seasons at the plate in 2019, hitting .281 with eight homers and 35 RBIs. He posted a 93 OPS+ in 2018 and 97 last season, so he’s been about league average at the plate without consistent at-bats.
Possible trade candidates
• James McCann, White Sox: McCann, 29, could be expendable after the White Sox signed Grandal to a four-year deal. The 29-year-old slashed .273/.328/.460 with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs last season in the best offensive season of his career. McCann has experience catching Verlander in Detroit, but defensively he ranked 104th out of out of 113 catchers in framing runs (-8.0), according to Baseball Prospectus.
• Omar Narváez, Mariners: Narváez, a left-handed bat, had a solid offensive season for Seattle in 2019, slashing .278/.353/.460 with 22 homers and 55 RBIs in 132 games with a 120 OPS+. He’s not a good defender, though. Narváez worked to improve his pitch framing and blocking last year, but is still a work in progress behind the plate. But he’s still only 27 and just hitting his first season of arbitration eligibility, so he’s relatively cheap and has three years of team control remaining.
• Willson Contreras, Cubs: The Astros, whose Minor League depth has taken a hit in the last couple of years in trades to land Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, might not have enough chips to pluck Contreras away from the Cubs. He’s coming off two consecutive All-Star seasons and last season slashed .272/.355/.888 with 24 homers and 64 RBIs in 105 games with a 125 OPS+. Plus, he’s only 27 years old with four years of control remaining, so the Cubs’ asking price will be high. He was 109th out of 113 catchers in framing runs (-9.4), though, according to Baseball Prospectus.