Chris Gimenez knew it in spring training, when it looked like he was finally going to have a baseball place he could call home.
A catcher in his position can’t take anything for granted.
He had been re-signed by the Texas Rangers and was one of only two catchers on the 40-man roster, joining Robinson Chirinos. Gimenez looked like a shoo-in to be Chirinos’ backup.
Bobby Wilson was in camp, on a minor-league deal after making a significant contribution in 2015, but Gimenez had the guaranteed money and a good working relationship with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish.
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Yet, despite all the signs that pointed to Gimenez being a part of the 2016 Rangers, they traded for Bryan Holaday the night before camp broke and then traded Gimenez as soon as he was healthy after a late-spring leg infection.
And all along, Gimenez’s personal history told him not to get too comfortable. Most big league catchers can’t take anything for granted, other than teams are always going to have some level of interest in him as they try to find a way to stock the toughest and thinnest position in baseball.
“They understand,” said manager Jeff Banister, a former catcher who made it to the majors for one game. “The only thing they can control is what they can control. They can’t get engaged or involved with anything else.”
Catching is demanding on many different levels. Catchers get beat up physically, even with all that gear, and their mental load is greater than any other player. They have to know every hitter and need to have a relationship built on trust with every pitcher.
4 Catchers who have been behind the plate for the Rangers this season (Robinson Chirinos, Bryan Holaday, Brett Nicholas, Bobby Wilson)
Johnny Bench, Ivan Rodriguez, Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina don’t walk through the door very often. Developing a catcher of that caliber and who is that durable is like winning the baseball lottery.
“Everybody would like to go pick out a superstar catcher and have a complete guy, but they’re rare,” Banister said.
The Rangers have been fortunate with their catchers since the trade deadline last year, when Gimenez and Wilson were added to the roster with Chirinos and Carlos Corporan on the disabled list. Gimenez and Wilson shared the catching load the next six weeks as the Rangers surged into the division race and ultimately won it.
Their catcher in the American League West clincher in Game 162? It was Gimenez.
Now he’s in Cleveland, his fourth big-league team and fifth organization, and now the Rangers are faced with another catching quandary. Chirinos was activated from the 60-day disabled list Thursday and started at catcher Friday at Seattle, with Wilson and Holaday on the bench and not certain of what lies ahead.
The Rangers will need a roster spot for Shin-Soo Choo on Monday. Sending down Jared Hoying would seem to be the easy answer, but the Rangers wouldn’t have a capable backup center fielder or any speed off the bench.
A decision to send Adrian Beltre to the disabled list would make it easier for the Rangers to keep three catchers, though keeping three catchers is never easy. Challenging decisions lie ahead, and Wilson has seen them not go his way in the past.
“There’s definitely uncertainty with it, and it’s a tough situation,” Wilson said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been through it.”
He has been designated for assignment twice, granted free agency after four seasons, spent the entire 2013 season in the minors and has been traded twice this year. He has been in the big leagues with five teams and a player in two other organizations.
Rather than just simply say that no team wants him, it’s just as easy to say that several teams want him. If the Rangers decided to designate him or Holaday off the roster, neither one would make it through waivers.
It’s completely out of your control. Other than playing as hard as you can and hoping that someone likes you and wants you to stick around, we don’t ever know.
Rangers catcher Bobby Wilson
Holaday was traded to the Rangers for Wilson on March 29 in a trade with the Detroit Tigers. It was the first time Holaday had been traded, but out of minor league options, he could be at the beginning of a winding big-league journey.
He said that worrying about it doesn’t do him much good, and that’s how Wilson has survived uncertain times.
“You’re kind of on edge of what can happen and what can’t happen, but what I’ve learned is it doesn’t really matter what happens,” Wilson said. “You’ve just got to roll with the punches and see where the journey takes you. Worry about it can consume everything you do.
“It’s not a fun situation to be in, but if you can just go out and play and not worry about it, whatever happens is going to happen. It’s completely out of your control. Other than playing as hard as you can and hoping that someone likes you and wants you to stick around, we don’t ever know.”
Gimenez and Wilson are hardly unique. Gimenez took the roster spot of Adam Moore, a native Texan who starred at UT Arlington. Moore has been in the majors with four teams.
The Rangers also had Michael McKenry in spring training. He’s played in the majors with two teams and has been a member with five organizations. Former Rangers catcher Matt Treanor was in camp one day, two years into retirement after playing in the majors with five teams and in seven different organizations.
Chirinos has been lucky so far in that he has found a home in the majors in only his third organization.
On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Erik Kratz to fill in while Francisco Cervelli is injured. Kratz has played in nine different organizations, and the Pirates are his fourth since March.
Like left-hander relievers, catchers are always going to be in high demand. Many of them end up taking quite a journey through MLB.