DENVER -- The Rockies have been moving carefully and quietly in a catching market that is moving quickly.
The Brewers’ acquisition of right-handed-hitting Omar Narváez on Thursday took one of the few potential trade targets off the table. The White Sox committed to speculated-about catcher James McCann when they avoided arbitration with a one-year, $5.4 million deal, just days after signing Yasmani Grandal for $73 million over four years.
The Rockies not wanting to push a catcher beyond 110 defensive games -- Tony Wolters’ 112 in 2019 were tied for second-most in club history -- means there is much latitude in their search. They were never in the running for someone like Grandal.
The Rockies have seen Yan Gomes re-sign with the Nationals at two years and $10 million, Stephen Vogt choose the D-backs after spending last season with the Giants, and Alex Avila reached a reported one-year, $4.25 million agreement with the Twins. All three contracts fell within the range that the Rockies tend to spend for a veteran to catch around half the games. Going into 2017, they signed Chris Iannetta for two years at $8.5 million.
The Rockies have kept their pursuits quiet. It’s not clear they have contacted all the catchers they have interest in, and it’s still possible they could shake free a proven catcher in a trade. If there isn’t a catcher in the fold by the weekend, next week’s MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego could provide clarity. And the targets could go beyond those mentioned here.
That said, here are some possible targets:
Could there be a high school reunion? One intriguing name is right-handed-hitting Austin Romine, 31, who batted .281 with a .748 OPS, eight home runs and 35 RBIs for the Yankees in 2019. Romine was a teammate of Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado for a few years at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif. In recent seasons, he has backed up Gary Sánchez, at times taking over when Sánchez was injured.
Throughout his Yankees days, Romine held the trust of pitchers. Speculation that he would join former Yankees manager Joe Girardi with the Phillies ended when the Phils avoided arbitration with Andrew Knapp by reaching a one-year, $710,000 deal.
How about All-Star pedigree? Russell Martin, 37 in February and long a nemesis during two turns with the Dodgers, has the experience and leadership that could help a still-young staff. What isn’t clear is what he’ll command, after completing a four-year, $75 million deal signed with the Blue Jays in 2016. Switch-hitting Matt Wieters, 33, was one of several veterans squeezed last offseason, before he signed a Minor League deal with the Cardinals that carried a $1.5 million salary for making the Majors. Martin and Wieters have eight All-Star appearances between them.
They’ve had time: Robinson Chirinos, 35, and Martín Maldonado, 33, the catching tandem for the Astros in the World Series, lead a group of catchers who have been on the market throughout the free-agency period. Francisco Cervelli, 34 in March, has battled concussions in recent years, but received high marks from the Braves' staff after being claimed from the Pirates for the late-season stretch. Jason Castro, 32, who hit .232 and slugged .435 with 13 homers in part-time duty with the Twins last season, would seem to be a fit even though he hits left-handed, like Wolters.
New on the market: This week’s non-tendered catchers include Caleb Joseph, 33, a solid defender whom the D-backs non-tendered to avoid a big salary hit; and Elias Díaz, 29, who hit .286 with a .339 on-base percentage in 82 game for the Pirates in 2018 before dropping to .241 and .296 in a career-high 101 games (96 defensively) in ’19.