Twins

Should Christian Vazquez or Jair Camargo Be Minnesota's Backup Catcher in 2024?

Photo Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

Late last November, Fansided insider Robert Murray reported the Minnesota Twins were “aggressively” trying to trade veteran catcher Christian Vázquez. At the time, the prospect of the Twins trading for Vázquez made a lot of sense. President of baseball operations Derek Falvey had recently announced the team would undergo “significant payroll cuts.” Catching prospect Jair Camargo had posted a 100 wRC+ over 368 plate appearances with the Triple-A St. Paul Saints in 2023. Minnesota had added him to the 40-man roster, increasing the likelihood of the 24-year-old making his MLB debut in 2024.

Although moving Vázquez made sense at that time, two months have passed, and the 33-year-old remains on Minnesota’s 26-man roster with no new speculation or tidbits of information being released since Murray’s initial reports. As things stand, the Twins look like they’ll roll into spring training with Ryan Jeffers as the starting catcher, Vázquez as the backup, and Camargo as the primary depth option at Triple-A.

Is this the correct course of action? Let’s take a look:

Benefits Of Keeping Vázquez 

Although Vázquez struggled at the plate in 2023, he was one of the best defensive catchers in MLB. FanGraphs’s defensive metric, Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF), measures a player’s defensive value relative to the league average. Vázquez finished in 12th place league-wide and eighth out of 98 qualified MLB catchers with a 16.7 DEF. Remember, he did that as Minnesota’s backup catcher. To put Vázquez’s defensive prowess into perspective, Vázquez’s 16.7 DEF is the second most a Twins player has posted over the past decade, only behind Byron Buxton‘s platinum glove-winning 2017 season, where he posted a 20.2 DEF.

Sacrificing offense out of the 8-hole, the spot Vázquez often occupied when in the starting lineup, for one of the best single-season defensive performances in franchise history was unquestionably a worthwhile trade-off for the 87-win Twins. FanGraphs doesn’t track DEF at the minor league level, but over 614 innings at catcher with the Saints last season, Camargo generated a .991 Fielding Percentage (Fld%) while throwing out base stealers at a 25% (16 of 49) rate. In comparison, Vázquez posted a .992 League Fielding Percentage (lgFld%) and threw out base-stealers at a 24% (17 of 54) rate over 793 innings at catcher with the Twins.

Though baserunning between MLB and Triple-A aren’t too dissimilar, it is fair to assume Camargo’s performance would decline at the Major League level. Camargo is an inferior pitch-framer and receiver to Vázquez. Looking ahead, FanGraphs’s STEAMER projection model expects a stark contrast in performance between Vázquez and Camargo in 2024:

  • Vázquez: .246/.300/.366, 75 games, 297 plate appearances, six home runs, 84 wRC+, 10.9 DEF, 1.1 Wins Above Replacement at FanGraphs (fWAR)
  • Camargo: .214/.265/.373, five games, 18 plate appearances, one home run, 73 wRC+, 0.4 DEF, 0 fWAR.

FanGraphs justifiably predicts Vázquez will be the primary backup to Jeffers for most of the season, with Camargo being called up for five games, likely as an injury replacement. FanGraphs also predicts Vázquez will have a bounce-back campaign offensively, projecting his OPS to be 68 points higher than last season. Although FanGraphs predicts Vázquez will improve in 2024, would it still make sense for the Twins to move on from the veteran’s $10 million price tag?

Benefits Of Choosing Camargo

The Twins would choose Camargo over Vázquez as Jeffers’ primary backup next season because it would save them over $9 million. If the team’s decision-makers were to opt for the inexperienced yet cheaper option in Camargo, they could disperse the funds allocated from parting ways with Vázquez elsewhere.

Although saving money is theoretically favorable, where would it be spent this late in the offseason? At first glance, they could spend the $9 million they saved from trading Vázquez could be spent on retaining 2023 starting centerfielder Michael A. Taylor.

Re-signing Taylor would give the Twins a trustworthy insurance policy behind the oft-injured Buxton instead of relying on negative regression candidate Willi Castro or an unknown commodity like Nick Gordon, Austin Martin, or DaShawn Keirsey Jr. They could spend the $9 million saved from hypothetically trading Vázquez on fortifying the bullpen. They could also target a right-handed hitting platoon bat or be rationed toward trading for a frontline starting pitcher like Jesús Luzardo or Logan Gilbert.

While these hypothetical scenarios are worth investigating, the Twins will likely head into 2024 with Vázquez and his $10 million price tag backing up Jeffers and Camargo starting the season with Triple-A St. Paul. If Vázquez struggles at the beginning of the season, Minnesota could trade him before the trade deadline and promote Camargo to Jeffers’ primary backup. Yet, with Vázquez attending Driveline this offseason and an overall sense that he will bounce back from 2023 struggles, it appears the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy High School product will spend his 10th MLB season with the Twins.

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Photo Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

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