Catcher week continued Tuesday in Arizona as the Diamondbacks signed Stephen Vogt, 35, to a one-year, $3 million deal that could extend to two years and $7 million if Vogt reaches various threshholds during his first year in Phoenix. Vogt missed all of 2018 after fairly serious shoulder surgery undergone whilst with the Brewers, but performed credibly in 280 plate appearances for the Giants in 2019, hitting 10 home runs and posting a 107 wRC+.
Arizona, meanwhile, was in the market for a veteran catcher to replace Alex Avila, who seems likely to depart in free agency after spending most of the last two years mentoring the Diamondbacks’ young backstop Carson Kelly. Kelly, 25, finally got more than 75 plate appearances in 2019 after three disappointing campaigns with the Cardinals left his once-elevated prospect status in doubt.
He made the most of his chances, triple-slashing .245/.348/.478 while walking 13% of the time and posting a 108 wRC+. Those aren’t All-Star figures, to be sure, and I’m certain the Diamondbacks are hoping for a little bit more out of him, but it isn’t bad for catcher, given the state of the position, was presumably enough promise to allow the Arizona brain trust to feel comfortable passing on bigger-name catching options for 2020. I suspect, given Arizona’s aspirations for 2020, that a disappointing start for Kelly might push the D-backs into the trade market come July, but they don’t need to decide that now.
Anyway, back to Vogt. For the first part of the season, at least, I’d imagine he’ll be used primarily against righty starters, or late in close games against righty relievers. Kelly posted a 182 wRC+ against lefties and a 79 against righties in 2019; Vogt’s splits aren’t as extreme, but they do tend in the opposite direction (115 against righties, 65 against lefties) more markedly than Avila’s (101 vs. R, 79 vs. L), which I suspect is what motivated this move. The Diamondbacks still need to figure out where to play Ketel Marte and then maybe fill in with a free agent bat wherever he’s not, but this move fills the team’s big, obvious hole in a sensible way.
And if Vogt can recover the offensive form that saw him post back-to-back 115 and 114 wRC+ seasons for the A’s in 2014 and 2015? Then Arizona will be more than happy to pick up the tab on the additional $4 million they’ve conditionally granted him as part of this deal. I have my doubts that that’ll happen — Vogt’s 2019 strikeout rate of 23.6% was nearly five points higher than his previous high-water mark, suggesting perhaps that his shoulder was holding him back to some extent — but a repeat of last year’s above average offensive performance seems within reach.
As for the rest of the market, Vogt’s signing leaves Jason Castro and Robinson Chirinos as the top free agent backstops, with Omar Narváez, Willson Contreras, and Jorge Alfaro potentially available on the trade market should an interested team be willing to spend more than money to upgrade behind the plate. It’s hard to know whether any of those trades will actually come through (though the Mariners do seem motivated to get a deal done around Narváez), or when, so for now it’s probably safe to consider this portion of the offseason catcher market concluded. Just in time for the holiday, too.
Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs based in Seattle. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he works with communities around the world to end homelessness.
Wait, are you saying Vogt will be used primarily against lefties even though he hits righties better and Kelly hits lefties better? Either there is an error there or I am missing something.
Yeah, I saw that too. It’s been fixed now.
Yep, the numbers were right but I’d originally written the sentence framed around Kelly and forgot to flip them. Thanks!