On Tuesday, January 7th, Robinson Chirinos returned to the Texas Rangers as the veteran catcher agreed to terms with the club. Those terms are for a one-year deal that includes a team option for 2021.
The Venezuelan backstop spent the 2019 season with the AL-champion Houston Astros, where he started 114 games behind the plate. Chirinos previously spent six seasons with the Texas Rangers before being allowed to dive into free agency, winding up down the road in Houston.
As we covered in our Rangers positional breakdown, the decision to let Chirinos walk led to a historically bad 2019 season for Rangers’ catchers. Texas opened the season with Jeff Mathis and experiment catcher Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Mathis was an offensive negative, Kiner-Falefa showed he isn’t a catcher, and eventual call-up Jose Trevino was only serviceable vs. left-handed pitching. The decision to utilize a more defensive-minded catching corps didn’t go as planned either. Mathis gunned down would-be base stealers just under 17% of the time versus 21% from Chirinos. Mathis also committed an equal number of errors in the field in over 300 fewer innings.
State of the Position
What can we expect behind the plate in 2020? Here’s what we know. Robinson Chirinos returns with solid averages versus LHP and decent power against RHP. In 114 plate appearances against LHP in 2019, he slashed .274/.439/.476, with 3 HR. Trevino, on the other hand, in much fewer appearances, slashed .333/.342/.538 with a single round tripper. The real separation in ability is in facing right-handed pitching. While only four points separate their batting averages, Chirinos hit 14 home runs to Trevino’s one. Average stats heavily favor Chirinos as well. Simply put, Trevino should not be facing RHP whenever it can be avoided. We can’t dismiss the thought of a lefty platoon, but it’s difficult to see Chirinos sitting out for anything other than rest. Simply put, these two players should be the Texas Rangers opening day catchers, barring injuries or trades.
Why did the Rangers move on from Chirinos to begin with? The answer is defense, which is a logical point to bring up. In 2018, Chirinos allowed the fourth-highest total of stolen bases in Major League Baseball, throwing out only six runners all season. The Rangers followed up this performance by declining his $4.5 million option for 2019. What the Rangers didn’t expect was to have one of the worst catching corps in the league put up historically bad offensive production. This most likely made the Rangers immediately regret the decision.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
The 35-year old Chirinos won’t magically have a stellar defensive season in 2020. Additionally, prospect Sam Huff may have something to say about that 2021 team option. Chirinos, nonetheless, brings with him a welcome offensive toolset for the upcoming season. This is something the Texas Rangers sorely need in order to contend with a division filled with the AL-champion Astros, much improved Angels, and up-and-coming Athletics. Has the Texas Front Office done enough to contend? Are there more signings on the way? For now, we’ll cross our fingers and wait, but Robinson Chirinos’ return for at least 2020 was a step in the right direction.
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