Texas Rangers: How does the catching situation play out come 2019 opening day?
By Travis Koch
It’s time to start talking 2019. The Texas Rangers will have a couple of important decisions to make regarding next year’s catching situation.
With 15 games remaining in a non-contending season, it’s time to start looking towards 2019. The Texas Rangers may not be in any position to contend next season either; however, the team, and its fans, definitely have some things to look forward to. For instance, another year of progress from the organization’s abundance of young talent. One young player to keep an eye on…Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
The 23-year-old came out of nowhere this season. He was initially promoted as a fill-in for injury, but it took little time for the Rangers to realize how valuable of a player he could be at the big league level. Thus, Isiah Kiner-Falefa has been up with the team since April 10th and has played in 101 games this season.
Texas struggled to find room Kiner-Falefa in the infield once Elvis Andrus returned from injury in mid-June. They were having a hard enough time finding consistent playing time for Jurickson Profar, which didn’t bode well for Kiner-Falefa as a rookie. Then, the Texas Rangers had the brilliant idea to try the rookie at the catching position. They haven’t looked back since.
Kiner-Falefa’s last 19 starts have come at catcher. He’s done an excellent job, allowing just three passed balls and throwing out 29% of attempted base stealers. Furthermore, his effectiveness behind the plate has not disrupted his offensive rhythm.
Without a doubt, he has benefited from an important niche on the roster. Now, the question is will Isiah Kiner-Falefa be the Rangers’ starting catcher March 28th, 2019 vs. the Chicago Cubs (opening day)?
If I had to make an educated guess, I would say yes.
Just as Kiner-Falefa will play whatever position he is asked in order to be on the major league club, the Rangers will look to play him anywhere they can to keep him on the club. Assuming Andrus does not opt out of his contract this offseason, he will of course be the squad’s starting shortstop next season. Third base will be held down by either Adrian Beltre or Jurickson Profar, and Rougned Odor will play 2B. Given the defensive layout, Texas’ only option is to play Kiner-Falefa at catcher.
He’ll have the entire offseason and all of spring training to make any necessary tweaks behind the plate. His defense should be in fine shape at the start of the 2019 season; plus, he can surely out hit all of his potential catching competition.
Robinson Chirinos is under contract for next season; however, it’s a club option. The Texas Rangers can either pay Chirinos $2,375,000 or buyout his remaining contract for $100,000. There is always the possibility that the Rangers pay the buyout and eventually re-sign the 34-year-old for a lesser 2019 salary. After all, Chirinos has proven to be a great influence on the pitching staff and a great overall teammate.
He has posted acceptable offensive numbers, but his offensive abilities are definitely more suitable for a backup catching role moving forward. I doubt anyone would have a complaint about Chirinos returning as the Rangers’ backup catcher.
Jose Trevino is another catcher to factor in. Trevino made his major league debut this season and ranks as the organization’s #26 prospect. He suffered a left shoulder injury towards the end of the minor league season, but he looks to be ready come spring training.
Trevino may need some additional time to evolve in the minors before becoming a routine member of the major league club. With that said, it wouldn’t take anything more than a proactive spring for the Texas Rangers to hand him a roster spot.
Ultimately, the catching situation will play out as follows:
Isiah Kiner-Falefa will be the opening day starting catcher.
Jose Trevino will be the backup catcher.
The Rangers will buyout Chirinos’ contract and the veteran will end up signing with another team. His offense is worthy of a backup role with Texas; however, it is worthy of a starting role for at least one team in the market.
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The argument could be made to not give Trevino a roster spot if he isn’t going to see consistent playing time. First off, if Isiah Kiner-Falefa does in fact become the guy behind the plate, Trevino will be on the outside looking in for years to come.
Secondly, Trevino would end up playing a decent amount. Catchers in today’s MLB get at least one day off a week. The Rangers will want to keep a young Kiner-Falefa as fresh as possible, especially in the summer heat. In addition, Kiner-Falefa would still get the occasional start in the infield when an everyday infielder is in need of a day off. Ergo, Jose Trevino will have plenty of opportunities for playing time.
If the Rangers do not feel Jose Trevino is ready for the big leagues, they can always go to free agency for a inexpensive backup catcher (kind of like they did with Carlos Perez this season).
As of September 15th, 2018, that’s how I see next year’s catching situation playing out. It will be interesting to see how Jon Daniels and Jeff Banister play it come March 28th, 2019.