As we start our Around The Horn series, here is a breakdown of each NL East team’s catching plans:
d’Arnaud resurrected his career with a midseason trade to the Rays in 2019 and then proved to be a great fit during his first year in Atlanta. The 31-year-old catcher produced a career-best OPS+ (138) and won his first Silver Slugger Award. He also seemed to earn the respect of Max Fried and the other young members of a pitching staff that will once again lean on him throughout the season.
Though d’Arnaud has stayed healthy both of the past two years, his long injury history provides some concern, as the Braves do not currently have a suitable backup option. William Contreras could use some more time at the Minor League level, and there’s still some doubt about Alex Jackson’s ability to handle the position on an everyday basis if necessary. So once the team fills its other primary needs, there’s a chance for yet another reunion with Tyler Flowers, who has been with Atlanta each of the past five seasons.
-- Mark Bowman
General manager Kim Ng said on Friday that the Marlins were "fairly set" with Jorge Alfaro and Chad Wallach. Miami is hopeful that Alfaro, who was part of the Realmuto trade in 2019, can rebound from a down '20 season. He missed the first month before posting a 70 OPS+ in 31 games and making way for Wallach in the postseason. "We think Alfaro has got a lot of promise," Ng continued. "We've been working with him in the offseason. I know he's been working very hard as well both on his defense as well as his offense."
Alfaro and Wallach are the only catchers on the 40-man roster, so the Marlins signed Sandy León to a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training. "We identified Sandy as a perfect fit as far as makeup goes and [he] serves as that veteran presence that will help excel and develop our young starting pitchers," assistant director of player development Hector Crespo told the Marlins Radio Network. Will Banfield (Miami's No. 30 prospect) hasn't appeared above the Class A level, and his ETA isn't until 2023.
-- Christina De Nicola
Unwilling to wait out Realmuto, the Mets instead splurged early in the offseason on a four-year, $40.6 million deal with McCann. Their hope is that McCann can not only prove his 2018-19 breakout was for real, but extend it to an everyday role for the first time in his career. McCann should at least be a significant defensive improvement over the departed Wilson Ramos, particularly with his pitch framing. The Mets are also bullish that McCann can be proficient at the plate after posting an .808 OPS the past two seasons. His deal buys the organization plenty of time to develop its top catching prospect, 19-year-old Francisco Alvarez.
Behind McCann, Tomás Nido figures to return as the Mets’ primary backup, though his grip on that job is unclear. Nido seemed to be in the midst of a breakout before testing positive for COVID-19 in August and missing the rest of the season. Provided he looks strong in Spring Training, there is no reason why he won't again make the big league club. The two other catchers on New York’s 40-man roster, Ali Sánchez and Patrick Mazeika, don’t have the same offensive potential as Nido, while non-roster invite Bruce Maxwell has not played in the big leagues since 2018.
-- Anthony DiComo
Gomes is returning to catch the majority of the games for the Nationals in 2021. He has been tasked with starting in the range of 100 games following the departure of platoon-mate Kurt Suzuki. The backup catcher had been one of the Nats’ biggest unknowns for most of the offseason, until they reached an agreement with Avila on Wednesday. Avila would bring familiarity to the pitching staff -- he previously was teammates with starters Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and Patrick Corbin.
Tres Barrera, Washington’s No. 17 prospect per MLB Pipeline, rounds out the trio of catchers on the 40-man roster. The 26-year-old only has appeared in two games at the Major League level, and he would benefit from playing time and reps to be prepared for an expanded role. The question is, how many games will he play this year following the addition of Avila?
-- Jessica Camerato
Phillies fans breathed a massive sigh of relief last week, when Realmuto signed a five-year, $115.5 million contract to return to Philadelphia. But it wasn’t just Phillies fans who were excited. Bryce Harper and Realmuto’s other teammates were thrilled, too. They know they have arguably the best catcher in baseball behind the plate for the next five years, which they needed if they had any intentions of competing in the NL East. Andrew Knapp figures to be Realmuto’s backup. He slashed .278/.404/.444 in 33 games last season.
If Realmuto or Knapp should suffer an injury at some point, Rafael Marchan likely is the next catcher up. He is on the 40-man roster, although the Phillies signed veteran Christian Bethancourt for depth purposes. Realmuto suffered a Grade 1 hip flexor strain last September and said it took him three or four weeks into the offseason before he felt OK again. “The hip is great,” Realmuto said Monday. “It was just a strain that really needed time to heal. Once we got to three or four weeks in the offseason, I haven’t felt it since.”
-- Todd Zolecki