MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins' main priority this offseason unquestionably is reinforcing their starting rotation, but the market for free-agent catchers has quickly heated up with the signings of Yasmani Grandal, Travis d'Arnaud, Stephen Vogt, Dustin Garneau and Yan Gomes even before the upcoming Winter Meetings. That's also an area where the club could need help due to Opening Day starter Jason Castro's departure in free agency.
Mitch Garver's striking emergence in 2019 earned him the American League Silver Slugger Award at catcher, and it should forecast strong-to-elite offensive production from the Twins' starting spot. With that said, the "backup" catcher could have a relatively outsized role on Minnesota's roster due to how manager Rocco Baldelli emphasized the rest and recovery element among his backstops last season.
Even though it was clear from early last season that Garver could post historic offensive numbers, Baldelli maintained an aggressive platoon between the slugger and Castro throughout the season. Castro made 72 starts to Garver's 73. Even when Garver wasn't behind the plate, he only made three starts at designated hitter, indicating that Baldelli emphasized rest over keeping his bat in the lineup.
It's not a given that Baldelli will similarly limit Garver's playing time in 2020, but it could be more important for the Twins to seek solid offensive production above that of a standard backup catcher to complement his offensive ability if that is, indeed, the plan.
Willians Astudillo will likely play into the catching picture in some capacity next season, but he posted a disappointing 76 wRC+ and a .678 OPS in 204 plate appearances last year. Astudillo could be more uniquely suited for the 26th man role as an occasional third catcher and backup at the corner infield positions within the setting of the roster expansion set to hit the Major Leagues next season.
So what factors might play into the Twins' pursuit of another backstop? Let's take a look.
Hitting ability against right-handed pitching
The Garver-Castro platoon worked well last season because the Twins could line up Garver in the leadoff spot to maximize his impact against left-handed pitching, while Castro could then be trusted to provide some pop against some right-handers. Castro posted a largely solid overall batting line during the season, and he was particularly strong against right-handed pitching, to the tune of an .851 OPS and 13 homers in 230 plate appearances.
That's not to say that Garver needs the platoon help. He complemented his monstrous 1.170 OPS against lefties with a .902 OPS against righties. But given how effectively that right-left pairing worked last season, it would be a logical start in breaking down most of the playing time behind the plate in 2020.
Solid defense behind the plate
Garver's hard work with former Minor League catching coordinator (and now Yankees catching coach) Tanner Swanson paid off with a marked improvement behind the plate. He ranked among the worst catchers in the Majors with minus-9 runs gained due to extra strikes in 2018, per Statcast, but improved that to minus-3 in '19, placing him solidly in the middle of the pack.
Castro has long been known as a strong receiver, and with Garver still improving behind the plate and entering only his third full season in the Major Leagues, a strong defensive presence could complement Garver's continued development and help a young pitching staff.
Unlikely to seek a longer-term deal
The Twins likely aren't in a position to give a longer-term deal to a catcher due to the continued rise of top catching prospect Ryan Jeffers, who is ranked No. 10 in the organization by MLB Pipeline, which describes the 22-year-old as a solid receiver with an above-average arm. Jeffers topped out in Double-A Pensacola last season, and there aren't any other significant catching prospects that stand between the former second-round pick and the Major Leagues.
With all that in mind, who could roughly fit the bill?
The 32-year-old Avila is nowhere near the offensive threat he was at the prime of his career, but he rebounded from a difficult 2018 to serve as a solid backup to Carson Kelly in Arizona last season, posting a .774 OPS with nine homers in 201 plate appearances. If Avila's inconsistent offensive production over the last several years makes it difficult for him to land a starting role, he could be a solid fit after recording a .795 OPS against righties and accounting for five runs saved with his pitch framing last season, per Statcast.
It's likely that Castro will be considered for starting roles due to his solid defense and offensive production, as his 1.6 WAR in 2019 ranked him third among free-agent catchers behind only Grandal and Robinson Chirinos. If that doesn't materialize, he would be a logical fit in Minnesota due to his solid performance against righties and, above all, his strong familiarity with the pitching staff.
Martin is the oldest of the bunch at 36 years old, and he could be hard-pressed to be a consistent starter given his recent decline in offensive production and playing time. But he could be a veteran stopgap with a strong eye at the plate and extensive postseason experience throughout his career. Martin still posted 1.2 WAR in limited time last season and ranked among the better framers in baseball with six runs saved with his framing in 2019, per Statcast.