White Sox: A Bold Move Behind the Plate

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The Chicago White Sox are primed to make a run in the 2022 season, whenever it gets started. They are by no means a perfect team, and general manager Rick Hahn still has work to do. The popular sentiment among fans is that the Sox need to address second base and right field. Sox fans will also tell you that another quality starting pitcher would be helpful. Of course, there is always the need to add an arm or two to the bullpen.

There is no question that all of these positions could use upgrades. However, there is also an unanswered question at a very important position: Who is going to be the backup catcher in 2022? While the Sox had major injuries at several positions in 2022, their lack of depth at the catching position was exposed. The catcher’s spot is often overlooked, but, over the course of a 162-game season, it has become essential to have depth if a team is to be a serious contender. The Sox are not immune to this need, and they struggled to fill it in 2021.

Catching As It Stands

At the present time, Sox fans can expect Yasmani Grandal to get the lion’s share of time behind the plate in 2022. That assumes that he can stay healthy for the whole season, which is no sure thing. Grandal suffered through some leg issues during the 2021 season and caught a total of 80 games, roughly a half-season. He will be 33 on Opening Day, and expecting much more than 100 games behind the plate seems optimistic at best. Perhaps a healthy Grandal will surprise Sox fans and management, and catch 120 games this season. However, no smart person would bet on it.

In 2021, Grandal was backed up by two young catchers: Zack Collins and Seby Zavala. Collins, a former first-round draft pick, was once heralded as a solid left-handed hitting catcher who could be the catcher of the future. Zavala was thought of as a solid defensive catcher with occasional power. Zavala was also seen as a serviceable backup catcher. However, Grandal’s injury in 2021 revealed just how inadequate both Collins and Zavala were behind the plate. Collins has never demonstrated any defensive ability, and he has not yet demonstrated that he can consistently hit major league pitching. Zavala struggled defensively and his hitting was worse than Collins’. The Sox must find an upgrade at backup catcher.

Potential Candidates

While neither Collins nor Zavala is acceptable to Sox fans as Grandal’s backup, the question is how is Rick Hahn going to do about the catching position? Does he dare ask Tony La Russa to trot out Collins or Zavala in a year when the Sox are expected to make a deep run in October? Is it possible that one of the two could wake up and become a decent backup catcher? What if Grandal has more health issues, which would not be surprising, given his age? Collins and Zavala are not going to fill the bill when it comes to the backup catcher spot.

There are potential free agents, who will be available once the lockout ends. Here are names fans may recognize (2021 WAR in parentheses): Luke Maile (.3), Stephen Vogt (.1), Jeff Mathis (0.0), Wilson Ramos (-.2), Robinson Chirinos (-.4), and Kurt Suzuki (-.4), among others. The youngest among these names is Maile at 31; none of the others are younger than 34. This is not necessarily a list that inspires confidence. The upside is that none of these will break the bank, and that is music to the Sox’ ears. The downside is that none of them would be a major upgrade over Collins and Zavala.

So, at first glance, it appears that the White Sox chances of adding a major upgrade for Grandal’s backup seem rather slim. Sure, they could sign one of the crusty veterans, who might be decent behind the plate. However, Sox fans could expect basically no offense from the backup catcher. If Grandal is sitting on the bench, the Sox offense takes a major hit. Additionally, what if Grandal is unable to stay healthy? Relying on one of these names for a period of time could be disastrous for the Sox’ 2022 hopes. No, the White Sox need to make a bold move behind the plate to help provide insurance for Grandal.

A Bold Move That Will Make a Difference

Since the White Sox’ catching options, both in-house and via free agency are poor at best, Rick Hahn needs to make a bold move. A move that would solidify the catching position for 2022, as well as provide insurance for Yasmani Grandal. This means that they need to trade for a difference-maker, a proven winner, a player who has already won a World Series. A player who would also bring a competitive spirit to the team. So, we suggest that the player Hahn ought to target is none other than Willson Contreras.

Yes, Sox fans, that Willson Contreras, from the dreaded North Side. This is a move that makes a lot of sense for multiple reasons, not the least of which is making the White Sox much stronger behind the plate. White Sox fans would have to get over their hate for anything Cub, but Willson Contreras would solve a lot of problems facing the Sox in 2022. Let’s explore them for a moment.

Contreras is a solid defensive catcher with a keen ability to throw out would-be base stealers. That has been sorely missing on the South Side. Having Contreras would allow La Russa to rest Grandal more frequently, which should help keep him healthy through the long season. Contreras has a competitive fire that is sure to keep the rest of the team on its toes. Contreras is a solid offensive catcher, in fact, an elite hitter behind the plate. One final positive is that Contreras is entering his free agency season, meaning that the cost to acquire him may be cheaper than it otherwise might be.

The Boldest Part of All

As mentioned above, with Contreras onboard, Grandal would get plenty of rest. We love this idea so much that we are going one step further: make Grandal the full-time designated hitter, and Contreras the full-time catcher. Grandal would be the best backup catcher in baseball and provide solid offense from both sides of the plate. Contreras, meanwhile, will be motivated to excel as he heads into free agency. We defy any fan anywhere to come up with a better answer at the catcher position.

This is a win-now move and would excite Sox fans everywhere. Sure, it might relegate Gavin Sheets to the bench for a year, but his time will come. Besides, he will still find playing time on occasion. This trade is about the White Sox becoming a serious World Series contender in 2022. Rick Hahn needs to step up and pull the trigger on the trade that could seal his legacy on the South Side. What do you say, Rick? Sox fans say the future is now.

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Mike Fisk is a lifelong baseball fan. For him, there is nothing like being at a baseball game, with the sights, the sounds, the smells. Writing about baseball is a bonus!