What's behind Guardians' plan to carry three catchers?

March 26th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Guardians roster is 99 percent finalized.

Manager Terry Francona talked to the remaining players in big league camp to inform them where they would be starting the year. What seemed like a battle between outfielders Richie Palacios and Roman Quinn for the last bench spot was erased when both were sent to Minor League camp, as the Guardians decided to carry three catchers on the Opening Day roster.

This is where the 1 percent of uncertainty comes into play.

Cleveland knows that will be the starting catcher and will serve as the backup. Francona told that as of now, he’ll be the third-string catcher.

Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti explained what could change: “We talked to the players involved that there is some chance that we make an external acquisition, and if we do, that will affect the composition of our roster.”

Maybe the Guardians acquire someone via trade or the waiver wire. For now, Cleveland is confident beginning the year with three catchers on its Opening Day roster.

The idea is that although Zunino is healthy, the team wants to make sure he’s not taking on more than he can handle since he missed most of last year due to thoracic outlet syndrome that required surgery in July. On the days he gets off, the Guardians want him to catch his breath, rather than be an option off the bench. That gives the team the freedom to pinch-hit for Gallagher with someone like Will Brennan or Gabriel Arias and bring in the third catcher defensively.

“We’re like OK, what can help us the most?” Francona said. “So, we just thought this might be the best way early, to kind of protect our catching, allow us to pinch-hit, but not put anybody in physical peril.”

Assuming both Gallagher and Viloria are on the Opening Day roster and nothing changes before Thursday, the Guardians will need to clear two spots on their currently full 40-man roster. The club has not revealed what those moves will be. It has until Thursday morning to finalize those decisions.

The other option would’ve been using another position player (aside from a catcher) to fill the bench. The depth pieces currently include infielder Arias (who can also play the outfield) and outfielder Brennan. Another bat would’ve provided some flexibility in pinch-hit scenarios, considering that if Arias is used as a pinch-hitter, the Guardians have no other infielders as options on the bench. However, Cleveland realized it may have done more harm than good to have two outfielders sitting.

“We could’ve easily taken Richie,” Francona explained.” He could’ve sat the bench, which I’m sure anybody wants to make the big league roster, but for his development, that doesn’t really help. Like, him playing every day is going to do him a world of good.

“And right now Brennan, we wanted to get Brennan in games and if you have two, you end up doing a disservice to both of them.”

The Guardians still may make a move that will change these plans. But for now, the team is ready to head into the season with three catchers on its roster.

“I know this probably doesn’t last forever, but we felt like coming out of the gate, it could help us,” Francona said. “Probably the best use of that last spot.”