Sep 1, 2019; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals catcher Andrew Knizner (7) tags out Cincinnati Reds pinch runner Michael Lorenzen (21) during the ninth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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As we move into the offseason, it’s time to look at what comes next for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Over the next few days, I will review all aspects of the roster that the team will be carrying into the offseason — who is leaving, who is returning, who is ascending from the minor leagues — and try to identify the true needs for the team. Of course, my takeaway will be my own opinion, but hopefully the breakdowns will be informative and allow you to form your own.
After covering the starters and relievers, I’m turning to the other end of the battery and taking a look at the catchers.
Overall, the Cardinals catching was a bit lackluster in 2019. That seems like an odd statement with Molina anchoring them, I know. On offense, the 0.7 fWAR that the Cardinals got from the position ranked just 23rd in baseball. In terms of FanGraphs Total Defense, their 3.5 mark was 24th in baseball, their -2 Defensive Runs Saved ranked 17th, and their -10.9 figure in Pitch Framing was 27th.
Now, a lot of that was on Wieters and Knizner (in limited duty). Molina was fine, as he is basically just a normal catcher now. His 8.9 Total Defense ranking 16th in baseball. He was +2 in Defensive Runs Saved and was a +1.8 in Pitch Framing, so you can see how far down the others pulled the overall numbers.
I hate to pile onto Knizner because he barely got a chance. He caught only 118 innings and it was his first taste of the big leagues. I’m willing to forgive his poor numbers in 2019 and expect much better results in the future. I’m definitely not going to judge his offense based on 58 plate appearances.
Wieters simply isn’t much of a defensive catcher anymore. He was a stud early in his career, but once he began fighting injuries in 2014, he hasn’t been much account behind the dish. He was a -2 in Defensive Runs Saved and -8.6 in Framing (hes has been a negative in framing for 7 straight years). He did do a nice job with the running game, throwing out 8 of 19 basestealers (42%) and his defensive limitations aren’t a major hinderance in a limited role.
The other thing he did was sell out for power as backup catcher, hitting 11 HR’s in 183 PA’s, which I like. With sparse at-bats, maintaining good contact and a high average is going to be difficult anyway, so trying to maximize the damage you can do in your chances is good for a backup. Cardinals backups have had very little power over the years. Being a switch hitter was also a nice matchup bonus when he did play.
Joe Hudson got 1 at-bat and was only called up because Wieters was hurt in September and they wanted 3 healthy catchers. Joe is a solid organizational guy, but I’m already writing him off as being a roster casualty within the next couple weeks.
Moving into 2020
Returning: Yadier Molina, Andrew Knizner
Free Agents: Matt Wieters, Joe Hudson (probably)
Other Internal Options: Jose Godoy, Brian O’Keefe, (there are a few intriguing catchers at lower levels — including Ivan Herrera, a stud — but they aren’t factors for 2020)
We know that Yadi will be get the bulk of the innings in 2020. His defense isn’t at the elite level it used to be, but he is still a solid catcher that has good rapport with his pitchers. Offensively, his 2019 numbers took a hit due to a terrible month between a hand injury and actually going on the IL to get it corrected, but he was league average when actually healthy and should continue to be. He isn’t a #5 hitter and needs to be planted in the #7 permanently, but that’s beside the point. Yadi is fine.
The only question revolves around how to address the backup. There are basically two paths: Yadi plays 125-135 games and the backup is almost a non-factor or Yadi finally agrees to take a step back and play healthy and rested for 100-115 games.
If the backup is only geting 25-35 starts, then it does not need to be Andrew Knizner. Under that scenario, there is a need for a veteran backup. Wieters could be approached to return, as his power gives him value over Joe Hudson.
If Yadi dials back and you can reserve 50 starts for Knizner, then letting him learn and grown as Yadi’s understudy would be worthwhile. Offensively and defensively, I believe that this timeshare would give the Cardinals at least middle-of-the-pack production from the catching position — as opposed to bottom third in 2019.
There is always a need for a veteran insurance policy at AAA, and bringing Joe Hudson back would solve that.
What I Think They SHOULD Do:
Let Wieters walk.
Bring back Joe Hudson on a minor league deal.
Talk Yadi into being more accepting of a reduced role. Convince him that he will be a better player with regular rest. Then, follow through on that by starting Knizner at least 50 times.
What I Think They WILL Do:
My gut says that the Cardinals will let Wieters walk away, as they don’t really think Knizner has much left to prove at AAA and want him to be part of the MLB mix.
Bring Joe Hudson back on a minor league deal.
My fear is that they will lock Knizner in as the backup, but not give him sufficient playing time.
Offseason Need: Veteran backup ; None if you treat Yadi like a normal catcher.
As far as this position goes, it’s as much about the playing time as it is about personnel. However much they intend to play Yadi is the determining factor on who should be the backup.
Thanks for reading.
Thanks to FanGraphs for the stats.