Robinson Chirinos And The Empty Catching Depth Chart

Evan Grant asks if Robinson Chirinos will be the Rangers starting catcher in 2016, and by the end when Grant more or less answers "yes, he probably will be," we're mostly nodding in agreement. The Rangers have long coveted a legit starting backstop -- dating back to the days after Pudge Rodriguez -- and due to the lack of current options in the farm system, as well it being a scarce position of talent around MLB, it's generally been the simplest piece of the club to analyze. Where there isn't much happening, there isn't much to say. 

As Grant notes, the Rangers begin the winter with three arbitration-eligible catchers on roster: Chirinos, Chris Gimenez, and Bobby Wilson. As Robinson has been an absolutely worthwhile investment -- generating +3.8 fWAR between 2014-'15 in 611 combined plate appearances (.236/.306/.425, 23 HRs) -- the archetype of player he is usually exists as a backup on a playoff team. Positive value catchers don't grow on trees, as we're fully aware, but Texas's lack of catching depth is an area that will have to be addressed in the next couple years. With an infusion of young talent prepared to enter the big league mix by late-summer 2016, the future at catcher is the only position on the diamond that seems to be lacking real definition moving forward. 

Chris Gimenez and Bobby Wilson are, of course, easily expendable. Evan Grant makes the mistake of giving reflective credit to Gimenez for the Rangers' 11-1 record in Cole Hamels's starts down the stretch, neglecting to say Texas scored 73 runs in those 12 games (a shade over 6 runs of support per start). Suffice to say, Gimenez and Wilson's presence(s) on this roster depend more on Jon Daniels finding a true #1 catcher than some arbitrary 12-game sample size. 

Before the July 31st trade deadline, Daniels traded away the closest thing the Rangers had in that department -- Jorge Alfaro -- in order to obtain Hamels from the Phillies. I had been writing about potentially trading Alfaro as early as April, 2014, so I didn't have many reservations with Texas moving him for a TORP. Chirinos's improvements at the major league level and Jorge's season-ending ankle injury, I'm sure, played some role in why I was comfortable with his inclusion in the Hamels trade, especially if it meant saving Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo. Nonetheless, the Rangers lost really the only catcher they had in line on the farm. 

As for external options Grant notes Matt Wieters as the top free agent available, but that he would likely cost something in the Brian McCann range (5/85), or about as much money per year as the Rangers have to spend this winter. On the trade front, Evan mentions Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy in saying: "The Rangers will check into Lucroy again -- but so will everyone else." 

Basically, unless they are willing to spend on Wieters and roll into 2016 with a $155-160 million payroll, or trade away either one of Mazara/Gallo/Brinson to get Lucroy, then the Rangers are very likely to devote another year to Robinson Chirinos and hope for the catching climate around MLB to change.

Is that bad a thing? Kind of, but not really. The Rangers managed to win 88 games in 2015 with Gimenez, Wilson and Tomas Telis absorbing more than 200 plate appearances. Chirinos, himself, is a converted infielder and still learning on the job in many aspects, including receiving and pitch framing (which is now called "presentation," I guess). Texas has been able to survive between 2010-2015 with, aside Mike Napoli's insane 2011 season, a total of +6.0 fWAR from its catchers. The list of guys the Rangers have started behind the plate over the last six years is a burial ground of failed prospects and stopgaps. So it's not the worst thing in the world to have Robinson as a caretaker behind the plate. 

Looking ahead, however, it's the one weak link on a team that has all the pieces for another championship run, and there doesn't appear to be a replacement coming up the ranks any time soon.