Astros agree to deal with Caratini, bolster catching depth

December 8th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Astros found their backup catcher by reaching an agreement with switch-hitter on a two-year deal, the club announced on Thursday. The deal is expected to be worth $12 million, per a source, though the Astros did not disclose the terms.

Caratini, a veteran of seven Major League seasons, spent the past two years with the Brewers after stints with the Cubs and Padres. As the primary backup to William Contreras in Milwaukee in 2023, the 30-year-old Puerto Rican hit .259 with seven home runs, 25 RBIs and a .711 OPS. According to Statcast metrics, he was an above-average pitch framer for the Brewers last season.

“I like the fact that he had a lot of [service] time, he's a switch-hitter, he can really frame and block and there's some upside with the bat,” Astros general manager Dana Brown said. “I thought that this would complement [Yainer] Diaz very well. On days we want to we want to give Diaz a breather, we can do that and feel good about it.”

Caratini was the personal catcher of Brewers ace Corbin Burnes for most of last season until the Brewers opted to use Contreras behind the plate in Burnes’ starts because they needed his bat.

The Astros are turning to Diaz to be their starting catcher in 2024. He hit .282 with 23 homers and 60 RBIs last season and finished fifth in American League in Rookie of the Year voting. He spent the year as the backup for , whose time in Houston has come to an end.

“Workload-wise, he’s going to get predominantly most of the starts,” Brown said Monday about Diaz. “He’s going to get his opportunity to show us what he can do, and that’s going to be important for him. And he’s going to have to post, basically. So with that, we need a backup to give him a breather every now and then. It’ll be the first time that he’s getting this opportunity. But he’ll get most of the starts, for sure.”

Maldonado has been the Astros' starting catcher for the previous four seasons, guiding a World Series-winning pitching staff in 2022 and playing in three Fall Classics in Houston. He caught two no-hitters with the Astros, including Framber Valdez’s no-no this year, and was behind the plate for most of Justin Verlander’s starts when he won the Cy Young in 2022.

Maldonado is drawing interest from the White Sox, Red Sox, Padres, Marlins and Rays, according to a source.

Despite Diaz’s impressive numbers at the plate last season, Maldonado remained the starting catcher because several of the team’s starting pitchers preferred throwing to him for preparation and game calling. That list included Verlander and Valdez. The Astros didn’t express any interest in bringing Maldonado back.

“I'm excited about Yainer getting an opportunity to catch and play and play every day,” manager Joe Espada said Monday.

Caratini has appeared in 62 games in his career at first base, which means he could be an option to spell veteran José Abreu at the position on occasion. Espada said Monday the team was looking for ways to get Abreu off his feet a little bit more in 2024.

“We're looking at who can back him up there,” he said. “I really expect him to have a really good year next year, and any conversations with him, he's taking some strides on his body and things that he's doing differently, and I'm really optimistic that he's going to have a really good year next year.”