While the focus of Major League Baseball free agency has been on starting pitchers, shortstops and Aaron Judge, the catcher position offers some interesting names.
The free agent catcher class by no means offers a dramatic game-changer like Carlos Correa, Trea Turner or Xander Bogaerts, but it’s a position the Red Sox could choose to target, along with their efforts to re-sign their All-Star shortstop.
Boston carries three catches on the 40-man roster: Ronaldo Hernández, Reese McGuire and Connor Wong. Hernández likely will spend the majority of the season in Triple-A Worcester again. McGuire was acquired at the trade deadline last season and Wong got an extended look down the stretch of the 2022 season.
The trio isn’t bad by any means, but there is an opportunity to upgrade the position if chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom chooses to do so. Let’s take a look at the options Boston has at its disposal this offseason.
Stay put at the position
McGuire seems locked in as, at worst, the backup. The 27-year-old batted .337 in 36 games with the Red Sox, with a .877 OPS. The fifth-year catcher hit three home runs and brought in 12 RBIs in 98 at-bats. He is a veteran presence that can be valuable in the clubhouse. McGuire led the American League catching 33% of runners stealing.
The interesting question is with Wong. The 26-year-old got another crack at the majors in 2022 and played in 27 games. He batted .188 with a .585 OPS. He hit one home run and collected six RBIs in 48 at-bats.
The sample size of Wong’s career outlook is growing, but it still is a small workload to project off of. The Red Sox could use 2023 to take a full look at the 26-year-old to see if he is capable of being a starter at the major league level.
If the Red Sox are looking for proven starters, they can look to free agency to get answers. Of course, many fans want Vázquez to return to the team, and the 32-year-old has seemed open to a return to Boston ever since he was traded to the Astros at the trade deadline. Vázquez collected his second World Series title in Houston, and the eighth-year catcher may be motivated to do it again with the Red Sox. Boston knows what it’s getting with Vázquez, so there wouldn’t be any worry about a team fit.
The former Chicago Cubs backstop will be one of the pricier free agent catchers on the market but for good reason. Contreras made his third All-Star appearance in 2022 and batted .243 with a .815 OPS. He hit 22 home runs and collected 55 RBIs in 416 at-bats. There were rumors at the trade deadline the Cubs would deal Contreras, but that never happened. However, it does suggest Contreras will take his talents elsewhere after seven years in Chicago, and if the price tag isn’t too high, he’d be a significant upgrade for the Red Sox.
The 10-year backstop has suffered a handful of injuries in recent years, but he has been productive when healthy. In his 2021 All-Star campaign, Zunino hit 33 home runs and brought in 62 RBIs on a .216 batting average and .860 OPS. He has produced 9.8 career wins above replacement, and Boston has some familiarity with Zunino due to his four years with the Tampa Bay Rays. The 31-year-old likely will sign a one-year “prove-it” deal this offseason due to his injuries, which means the Red Sox can get a discount on a quality starter.
Boston also can look at a trade if it so chooses. A realistic trade partner would be the Oakland Athletics, who seemingly are willing to part with Murphy after four years with the team. The Gold Glove catcher is a serviceable option for the Red Sox with a 7.9 WAR. Murphy has a career .236 batting average and .755 OPS. The 28-year-old is a serviceable starter in the majors, and Boston could acquire him depending on Oakland’s asking price.