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To Catch a Free Agent Catcher

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Colorado Rockies v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

When the Pirates made it … well, drizzle for Francisco Cervelli in 2016, the team obviously believed him to be its catcher for a while, despite his lackluster stats on both sides of the plate and his unsettling injury history. As we all know, Cervelli, while being a fan favorite, never fulfilled that small hope and was sent packing this summer, and the Bucs found themselves floundering at the catcher position. Elias Diaz proved that he is not the answer, and as my colleague Nathan Hurst pointed out, Jacob Stallings isn’t looking like the best of bets either.

The Bucs don’t have the money to attract the likes of a Yasmani Grandal, but they do have something tangible to offer a free-agent catcher—a good shot at being an everyday player. No one wants to ride the pine on a regular basis, so getting the chance to be the go-to guy is very attractive. I’ll be the first to admit that the 2019-20 class of catchers outside of Grandal is weak, but if a team has to work with what it has, there are a couple of candidates that are within reach of the Bucs should they try to pursue them.

2019 ALDS Game 5 - Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros
Travis d’Arnaud
Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Much like Cervelli, Travis d’Arnaud has had terrible luck with injuries, including numerous broken bones, a few concussions, and Tommy John surgery in 2018. The Tampa Bay Rays picked him up for a song this May from the Dodgers after losing Mike Zunino and Michael Perez to the DL. D’Arnaud repaid his new team by batting .263 with sixteen homers and 67 RBI. Defensively, in 76 games at catcher he had a fielding percentage of .997 with only two errors. He also played 21 games at first base, and during his tenure with the New York Mets gained experience at second and third base as well. The Rays look to have committed to Zunino at this point, and at 30 d’Arnaud still has stuff in the tank, although the “if he stays healthy” disclaimer has to apply.

New York Yankees v Oakland Athletics
Austin Romine
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

Austin Romine is another intriguing proposition. One of the reasons the New York Yankees traded Cervelli to the Pirates in 2014 was because Romine was showing promise, but like Cervelli he got stuck behind a perceived superstar in the making, Gary Sanchez. Romine’s statistics are deceiving due to his lack of consistent playing time, but his offensive numbers this year were good—in 73 games he hit .281 with eight home runs and 35 RBI. His defense is equal to d’Arnaud’s, and he’s always gotten praise for how he calls games. He’s only a couple of months older than d’Arnaud and has been pretty durable over the years, and it would be interesting to see how he would do as an everyday catcher if given the chance.

The Pirates need a catcher who can stay around for a few years, which is why I didn’t list Tyler Flowers or Matt Wieters, who have similar stats but will both be 34 next season. D’Arnaud and Romine would be improvements over Diaz and Stallings, especially defensively, and for a team that is unable—or unwilling—to spend a lot of money they’re in the budget.