As the 2021 White Sox bears down on the upcoming season, at least one nagging question remains. Who in the world is going to be the backup catcher? This question has been on the minds of Sox fans ever since the 2020 season ended, and will remain a sore spot until they see some resolution.
2021 White Sox: The Current State of White Sox Catching
The White Sox were very active in the catching free-agent market in the previous two offseasons. After the 2018 season, they signed former Tiger James McCann to a two-year deal. This signing worked out almost too well for the White Sox. McCann far exceeded his career offensive numbers in 2019, and many Sox fans longed for him to be installed as the starter.
However, after the 2019 offseason, the White Sox dipped into the free-agent pool again and made quite a splash. They signed highly rated Yasmani Grandal to a four-year deal. This signing accomplished two things for the Sox, for better or worse. It cemented Grandal as the number one catcher and signaled the inevitable departure of McCann from the South Side.
Even though McCann put up some nice numbers in 2020, Grandal clearly was the catcher of the future for the White Sox. So, they allowed McCann to sign with the Mets, clearing the deck for Grandal. Though many Sox fans were, and remain somewhat upset about the turn of events, when the 2021 White Sox take the field, Grandal will be the man behind the plate.
What remains unclear, however, is just who will be Grandal’s backup. One would not think it would be such a big deal, given that Grandal will likely catch at least 120 games, if not more. Yet, the loss of McCann has put many fans in somewhat of a tizzy, worrying about the backup catcher. So, just what is the backup catching plan for the 2021 White Sox? What options do they have?
White Sox Backup Catcher: Internal Candidates
Looking at the current makeup of the Sox roster, there appears to be three internal options for the backup catching job. They are all names that sox fans have heard in the past, and each has already appeared in the Major Leagues. Yet, none of them has a clear claim on the job.
Zack Collins, a former first-round draft choice, has the highest pedigree of the internal candidates. This makes sense, based on his draft position. What he brings to the table are a left-handed bat and a keen batting eye. The bat has some attraction to some Sox fans. However, he has not developed his defensive abilities to where the Sox would like. In limited opportunities at the MLB, he has struggled at the plate. While it is far too early to write him off, Collins, 26, will need to show Sox brass something this spring. He is running out of chances.
Seby Zavala, 27, is the best defensive catcher among the internal candidates. A right-handed hitter, he has spent the vast majority of his career in the minors. He did have a cup of coffee with the Sox in 2019, managing to collect one hit in 12 plate appearances. He does not project to be a big-time hitter at the MLB level and will have to rely on his defense if he is to be a part of the 2021 White Sox.
Yermin Mercedes, 27, is perhaps the most intriguing internal candidate. A short powerfully-built player, many Sox fans would love to see him in a Sox uniform. Mercedes is a decent defensive catcher, but his power has caught the imagination of many fans. While he does not have the experience of Collins or Zavala, his ability to hit homers out of Guaranteed Rate Field gives him at least a seat at the table.
White Sox Catching Options: External Candidates
There are several free-agent catchers still available, as January nears an end. While some of them do not really stand out as potential options for the 2021 White Sox, there are a few worth consideration. Fans do need to keep in mind that none of them will remind fans of James McCann.
Jonathan Lucroy, 35, is a receiver who has had some success in his career. He is a career .274 hitter. However, he did not have a plate appearance in 2020, due to injury. He has a career OPS of .751, although his numbers have seen a steady decline recently. He would not be a top target of the Sox, but he is available.
Robinson Chirinos, 37, is one of those guys who has just managed to hang around for a long time. While his best days are clearly behind him, he can still handle a game behind the plate once in a while. He has never been known for his bat, but may provide what the Sox need on those days when Grandal needs a break.
Tyler Flowers, yes that Tyler Flowers, is also available this offseason. A former Sox catcher, Flowers now 35, has actually strengthened his defensive game. While he will never win a batting title, he does supply occasional power. He would be a solid defensive backup, as long as the Sox don’t expect much offense from him.
None of these free-agent catchers will excite Sox fans. They are all older players who are never going to contribute much on the offensive side of the ledger. They are not game-changers, and perhaps their biggest sin is that they are not James McCann. Yet, it is possible, although unlikely, that one of them could end up on the 2021 White Sox roster.
2021 White Sox Catcher: The Wrap
So, what does all of this mean? When all is said and done, what happens with the White Sox backup catcher position? Do they go with one of their younger, less-experienced catchers? Or, do they entrust the job to an experienced veteran, albeit one who will not hit much? At this point, there are more questions than answers, and fans want to know who it will be. At this point, nobody knows, but with spring training around the corner, the White Sox need to figure it out sooner rather than later.
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