The White Sox and Blue Jays Swap Backup Catchers

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

If I told you that two contending teams swapped major leaguers, you’d probably have an idea of what that looks like. Maybe a reliever and a fourth outfielder changed hands, or something like that. The Blue Jays and the White Sox didn’t do that, though; they swapped catchers, as Jeff Passan first reported:

But even though both Reese McGuire and Zack Collins play catcher, they do so in very different ways. Amusingly, as we at FanGraphs work through our Positional Power Rankings, Collins is essentially positionless power. His home run totals in the minors and batted ball metrics in the majors tell a consistent story; if he can figure out a way to limit his strikeouts, he’ll be a fearsome hitter.

In a previous era, that might have secured him a starting catching role. But our newfound understanding of the value of receiving has exposed Collins as one of the worst defenders at the position — one who was worth a ghastly 14 runs below average in only 506 innings of catching last year. It’s not an easy skill to show with a GIF or two, and that sounds like a ton of runs to surrender in such a short time. But that matches up with the eye test, and the Blue Jays will likely use Collins mainly as a first baseman and DH.

Importantly, Collins also has an option remaining, which means the Jays can demote him to Triple-A without exposing him to the waiver wire. That’s a key consideration for them, because they have precious little room for catchers at the major league level. Danny Jansen starts for them, and he looks like a double threat: he’s a solid receiver who adds value with his bat. Injuries have intermittently slowed him, but he looks like a reasonable first-division starter.

Alejandro Kirk isn’t a great defender, but he’s far better than Collins defensively and a fearsome hitter. He’s an excellent backup catcher, because he can also DH when he’s not needed in the field. The combination of Jansen and Kirk means Toronto has a full dance card at the major league level, and top prospect Gabriel Moreno might be ready as soon as this year, which will further muddy the waters.

Those three solid catchers squeezed McGuire out of the picture. Unlike Collins, he was out of options, which meant the Jays would lose him as soon as they didn’t have space for him on the major league roster. Why? He looks like a perfectly reasonable backup catcher, and half the teams in baseball could use an upgrade at that position. He’s reverse Collins, more or less: an excellent receiver and decent blocker at the plate, but one whose offensive value is limited by a complete lack of pop.

Having all of Jansen, Kirk, and McGuire on the Blue Jays clearly didn’t make sense, particularly with Moreno’s imminent arrival. If you had to choose one of the three as a starter, it would be Jansen, who best combines defense and offense. If you had to choose one as a backup, it would be Kirk; the extra value he provides as a DH is huge, and even at catcher, his combination of good hitting and acceptable defense might make him a better option than McGuire. That leaves McGuire to get jerked around between Triple-A and the majors as needed, except that he was out of options. As soon as the Jays needed roster space, they’d lose him for nothing.

I’m not sure what Toronto has planned for Collins. He’s not likely to play much catcher in the majors anytime soon; he’s simply too blocked by the rest of the depth chart. There’s no space at first base either; ever heard of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.? Maybe the team thinks he could play the outfield — I don’t — but he’s not an obvious fit by any means.

Most likely, I think the Blue Jays are simply buying time. Plenty of teams could use Collins somewhere on their major league roster, either because they think they can work with him on his receiving or because they have a hole at first or DH. He hasn’t hit much in the majors, but that’s only 351 plate appearances, and he had a decorated minor league career before that. With a whole year to find a fit for Collins, I assume Toronto will find a move that gets the team something it can use in exchange for him, and it might need him for a few emergency games before then. If not, so what? The Jays were going to lose McGuire anyway.

For Chicago, this trade is a no-brainer. The team was forced into playing Collins extensively at catcher last year, and yeah, did you see those receiving numbers I mentioned earlier? Replacing those innings with McGuire’s glove should make the pitching look meaningfully better. I’ll take McGuire over Seby Zavala, too. The latter is also out of options and might be lost on waivers at some point this year, but with McGuire in hand, that’s completely acceptable. This makes the White Sox a win better this year in my estimation, and they didn’t sacrifice future value to do it. Heck, Collins and McGuire are the same age.

So there you have it: a trade of backup catchers that makes sense for both teams. A lot of specific circumstances have to be in place for this kind of deal to work, and they all are in this case. McGuire could use a change of scenery. The Blue Jays had no leverage. The White Sox had a “catcher” they could move who Toronto can likely get *something* out of. The stars aligned, and that’s how you get a strange-looking trade that feels like a win for both teams.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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sadtrombonemember
5 months ago

Backup catcher is traded for a catcher who can’t catch, who is also a power hitter who doesn’t hit for any power

Last edited 5 months ago by sadtrombone
proiste
5 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Yeah. Really don’t like this for Toronto. I feel like they’d be better-suited seeking out a low-grade pitching option for McGuire. Collins looks like a complete nothing-burger

Travis Lmember
5 months ago
Reply to  proiste

What would the pitching equivalent of Zach Collins look like? Probably not even a lotto ticket – maybe a guy who used to be a lotto ticket but now is 27 and could be a backend bullpen mop?

Hard to criticize the deal w/o inside info of other options. Collins might have been the best offer, and since players can now make major changes (with a low probability of succeeding), it seems like betting on the talent is the best strategy. (Talent, meaning I’m assuming Collins is more talented than any other offer they received and the only issue is he’s a bad positional fit, but does have minor league options)

sadtrombonemember
5 months ago
Reply to  Travis L

But who still has an option left. He’s the guy who hangs out at AAA and if more than a couple of your relievers gets hurt, you can bring him up. The closest guy I can think of is Hunter Harvey on the Nationals.

sadtrombonemember
5 months ago
Reply to  proiste

I think there is 50/50 chance he is not rosterable. Here’s how it looks if you game it out:
-If Jansen is hurt or bad, then Moreno gets called up because you don’t want Kirk (or Collins) catching every day
-If Kirk is hurt or bad, then Collins gets called up to back up Jansen so that Moreno can still get reps every day

This is a very specific reason to roster a catcher with an option, even if they can’t play catcher. It only makes sense if they know they want to play Kirk as the backup catcher, which would then make McGuire the third catcher. They appear to be doing that so they can go with 16 pitchers. But since the 28 man roster drops to 26 on May 1st, and the 13 pitcher limit goes into effect at that point, they’ll need to bring up another position player. But they would definitely be better off if that person was McGuire than if it was Collins (it may not be Collins).

bosoxforlifemember
5 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

At least during the time that rosters are at 28, a third catcher makes a lot of sense. It really increases the roster by two spots because the backup catcher isn’t glued to the bench as insurance against an injury to the starting catcher. When the backup is Kirk, who carries a potent bat, I find it very difficult to believe that his pinch-hitting potential isn’t far more valuable than a mop-up man at the back end of the bullpen.

sadtrombonemember
5 months ago
Reply to  bosoxforlife

I think the question isn’t whether Kirk should make the opening day roster. The question is whether Collins fills that role better than McGuire. They’re banking that the flexibility of Collins’ option makes him a better fit than McGuire’s actual ability to play the position. It’s true only under a narrow set of circumstances.

kfel20member
5 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Total speculation but maybe McGuire wouldn’t get vaccinated and would be ineligible to fill the 3rd catcher role in Toronto. They wanted to carry 3 catchers to open the season and had a couple days to find someone with an option who could fit that role (and was available for McGuire straight-up).