It has been 1,758 days since Twins fans last saw Joe Mauer calling pitches behind the plate. In that time, the Twins have struggled to find a reliable replacement for Mauer, using 19 backstops since August 19, 2013.
Then again, you could say that the Twins have only used 19 catchers in over the last four-plus seasons, as that is tied for the second-fewest in the league in that time. But outside of an all-star appearance in 2014 by Kurt Suzuki, the Twins haven’t had a catcher who can provide offense since Mauer made the move to first base.
Since 2014, Mauer’s first full year not catching, the Twins rank second-to-last in WAR from their catchers including ranking in the bottom five in the “Offense” and “Defense” statistics, per Fangraphs.
It’s all come to a head this year as their backstops are batting .190 with a .573 OPS while performing below average defensively. Despite his hitting woes, the loss of Jason Castro hurt the Twins as StatCorner unsurprisingly has him as one of the best defensive catchers in the game.
Meanwhile, Mitch Garver has been one of the worst defensive catchers in 2018 while providing minimal offense, and Bobby Wilson has done little to show he deserves equal or more playing time than the 27-year-old Garver.
Things look bleak now for the Twins, sitting six games behind Cleveland for the division and 11.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot. A lot of this has to do with injuries (Byron Buxton and Mauer) and disappointing starts to the season (Buxton, Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier), but the Twins are going to patiently wait for those bats to come back and/or get hot.
The catcher position is a spot they will be looking to improve in the next month and a half as Castro is out for the year, and neither Garver or Wilson have shown that they can be reliable contributors.
Of course, the Twins signed Cameron Rupp eight days ago and you can follow the link to see what Brandon Warne had to say about the signing.
In short, Rupp would be a defensive upgrade over the current options but is a bit of a question mark offensively.
This last offseason, the Twins signed Willians Astudillo to a minor league deal and he has batted .311/.344/.516 in 73 AAA games between Reno (2017) and Rochester (2018) which provides another possibility.
That said, it seems unlikely the Twins would call him up since they signed Rupp to potentially bring him to the majors if he shows well at Rochester.
If that doesn’t work, the Twins may look to trade for a catcher on an expiring contract, since Castro still has one more year on his deal.
Here are my top three choices:
No. 1 Wilson Ramos – Tampa Bay Rays
The former Twins top prospect has had an injury-riddled career but would be an all-around upgrade over the current options. When he has been healthy he has hit to the tune of .269 with a .744 OPS.
The Rays are not a bad team, but they aren’t in a position to make a postseason run either and could be looking to keep strengthening their solid farm system.
No. 2 Jonathan Lucroy – Oakland Athletics
Despite falling off offensively over the last season and a half, he would still be an upgrade over Garver and Wilson and a huge improvement defensively.
Right now Oakland is in playoff contention, but we’ll see what happens in the next month and a half. They also have Sean Murphy, a 2016 third-round draft pick, who has done well in the minors and could get a look once the A’s fall out of contention.
No. 3 A.J. Ellis – San Diego Padres
Never known for his offense, Ellis is batting .304/.402/.406 on a team that isn’t expected to do much this year despite only being six games out of the NL West.
Assuming regression, his career numbers are still better than Garver’s and his defense is definitely better. Those skills coupled with his veteran presence could bode well for some of the younger pitchers.
Admittedly, the success of this season rests on the shoulders of the big pieces of the Twins offense (Buxton, Sano and Dozier) turning a corner. That said, a catcher’s importance in the batter’s box and behind the plate cannot be understated and the Twins will need to address this if the team starts to turn it around.