DENVER -- Happy as the Rockies were with Tony Wolters, who made strides defensively and was a weapon against the running game in 2019, he needs help.
“We definitely think we need to look at adding a catcher potentially,” Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said Monday during the MLB General Managers Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Internally, we like the guys that we have on our roster. Dom Nuñez is a young player just being on the roster, so everywhere else we’re going to look.
“We’ll see what’s what in free agency. We’ll see what is out there in terms of any kind of trades. There’s not enough information for me to be specific as to where those targets might be, but that’s why we’re here now.”
Wolters’ 112 games caught (second-most in club history) and 102 starts were about as high as the Rockies want to go at the position. His .262 batting average and .666 OPS were, respectively, 92- and 89-point improvements over the previous year, although his road performance fell off dramatically late in the year.
While there is room for improvement for the left-handed-hitting Wolters, 27, there is plenty of playing time for another catcher. Last time the Rockies were looking, they signed Chris Iannetta for two years and $8.5 million before the 2018 season.
Ideally, the catcher would bat right-handed and be durable enough to step into the majority of the playing time depending on hot streaks, slumps and injuries. The Rockies like Nuñez, who turns 25 on Jan. 17, but he has just 39 at-bats in the Majors (.179, two home runs). With veteran backup Drew Butera a free agent, the Rockies do not have another catcher in the organization who has played in the Majors.
And while the science of pitch-framing (catching a pitch so the umpire is more likely to call it a strike) sometimes comes under debate, with the pitcher, the umpire and possibly even the hitter’s identity serving as influences, it would be nice to have someone with strong numbers in that aspect.
According to Statcast, Wolters registered low -- at minus-9 Runs From Extra Strikes, which is the key measure in the category -- in 2019. This figure has been all over the place -- plus-7 in 2016, minus-1 in 2017 and plus-8 in 2018.
Of course, the ideal addition would be Yasmani Grandal, whose .864 OPS as a catcher ranked third in the Majors and whose 13 Runs From Extra Strikes tied for second with the Braves' Tyler Flowers last season. But Grandal turned down a $16 million 2020 mutual option with the Brewers, and with several big contracts plus big arbitration figures expected for shortstop Trevor Story and pitcher Jon Gray, it’s not realistic for the Rockies.
Do the Rockies go for everything they need in a complement to Wolters? Will that veteran be a stopgap in the hope that Nuñez finishes his development? Does whoever it is have to go into a right-handed-hitting box?
Here are some names who may be fits.
• Travis d'Arnaud, 31 on Feb. 10, was discarded by the Mets and the Dodgers before landing with the Rays and producing a solid .263 average, 16 home runs, 67 RBIs and a .782 OPS in 92 games. His minus-2 Runs From Extra Strikes were solid for a guy on his third team. When he caught 93 games in 2017 with the Mets, before a knee injury curtailed his playing time, he posted a plus-7 Runs From Extra Strikes.
• Yan Gomes, 32, will get a World Series ring from the Nationals, even though his offensive and framing numbers were considerably down from his All-Star 2018 with the Indians. Any sort of rebound, however, would give the Rockies two of the top 12 in terms of caught stealing in 2019 among catchers with 90 or more games, per Stats LLC. Wolters caught 34.3 percent (fourth) and Gomes nabbed 30.5 percent. Gomes was minus-1 in Runs From Extra Strikes in 2019 but plus-7 in 2018.
• Martín Maldonado, 33, was available during the last offseason but the Royals grabbed him and sent him to the Astros during that team’s stretch run. He has occasional power and some history of postseason production.
• Robinson Chirinos, 35, has seen his playing time increase with age -- 108 games as a catcher for the Rangers in 2018, 112 for the Astros in 2019. The framing numbers aren’t strong, but a solid catalog of postseason appearances and five seasons with double figures in home runs could work in his favor.
• Russell Martin is a long way from the days when former Rockies manager Clint Hurdle openly coveted him (Hurdle eventually got him in Pittsburgh). Martin turns 37 on Feb. 15 and hit .220 overall in 83 games for the Dodgers last season. But Martin’s five-year, $82 million contract is over. Would the Rockies value his veteran presence and framing (plus-6 Runs From Extra Strikes in 2019)?
• Francisco Cervelli, 34 on March 6, caught just 41 games last season with the Pirates and Braves and has a long history of concussions. But the Braves were delighted with his impact during important late-season games (.281/.378/.688 in 14 games).
• There are a couple of left-handed-hitting options. Jason Castro hit 13 homers last season, has five other seasons of double figures in homers and was a plus-2 in Runs From Extra Strikes for the Twins. He gives more power than Wolters, but otherwise they are similar. Alex Avila, with the D-backs the last two years, has provided less offense than Wolters but has been a consistent framer -- plus-5 Runs From Extra Strikes in ’19, plus-6 in ‘18.