If any team understands the importance of catching depth based on its most recent season, it’s the Texas Rangers.
Five Rangers found themselves behind the plate at some point last season, as two found their way to the disabled list and a third was dealt at the July 31 trade deadline. Oh, yeah, one of the top catching prospects in the game was also traded July 31.
Only Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez remain as the annual winter meetings officially kick off Monday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. They are the only two catchers in the organization with any big league experience.
Next in line is Brett Nicholas, who played only one fewer game at first base than he caught (48) in 2015 at Triple A Round Rock. The top catching prospect is Jose Trevino, but he spent 2015 at Low A Hickory with a bonus stint in the Arizona Fall League.
The Rangers might not walk away with a catcher this week, but it won’t be for a lack of trying. They might not find someone to unseat Chirinos or Gimenez, but all options are on the table.
“It’s the nature of competitive sports,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “If we can do better, whether that’s by adding depth, which I think is the minimum we need to do this winter, or by going out and getting a guy that makes us better right away or we can grow with and be a guy for years to come.
“A couple different ways we’re looking at it. The minimum that we would do is add some real quality depth that can step in if we need it. That depth last year got us to the playoffs.”
Gimenez and Bobby Wilson solidified a problem area for nearly two months, until Chirinos showed late in the season that he could be a reliable player for the division series against Toronto. Along the way, Gimenez carved out a niche as Cole Hamels’ preferred catcher.
That might carry a lot of weight come decision time in March, especially with Yu Darvish also favoring Gimenez. With Chirinos having never caught more than 93 games in a season, it might be advantageous for Gimenez to catch twice every five days.
Chirinos didn’t even catch half the games in 2015 as he dealt with an injured left/non-throwing shoulder. When he’s healthy, Chirinos has pop in his bat and a quick throwing release that helps cut down on opponents’ running game.
“I’ve long described Robinson Chirinos as an underrated player,” Daniels said. “The only hickey on his résumé is, at this point, he’s had some unique injuries and hasn’t caught 120 or 130 games. Not many guys do anymore.”
The Rangers are checking all avenues to find a route to catching help. They originally found Gimenez in 2014 on the waiver wire, and struck a 2013 deal to acquire Chirinos after he hit waivers.
The most attractive free-agent catchers have already been snatched up, with Jeff Mathis and Tyler Flowers the most experienced remaining options. A trade would seem to be more fruitful, though acquiring a young controllable catcher isn’t easy to do.
But they’re out there, in Boston and New York, as Daniels and his staff surely know. They also know how badly they need to bolster their catching depth.