Joe Maddon has done a phenomenal job balancing playing time for his deep, versatile roster. At the All-Star break, the Chicago Cubs don’t have a player that ranks in the top 50 of innings played in the field. Anthony Rizzo leads the Cubs, ranking just 53rd with 732 innings (Freddy Galvis of the Padres leads baseball with 877 innings). Rizzo, of course, is a workhorse of a first basemen that, despite his rather uninspiring first half, remains the anchor of this roster.
Despite Maddon’s creative use of his roster — giving players appropriate rest while keeping the bench fresh — he’s severely lacked at one position. Catcher. Willson Contreras leads all of baseball in innings caught by a healthy distance. His 669 innings caught are well ahead of Martin Maldonado‘s 638 for the Los Angeles Angels, which should serve as a reality check for the second half of the season.
In short, giving Willson the same treatment as the rest of the starting corps will prove vital for the second half playoff push.
Something Has to Give
When Victor Caratini emerged from spring training as the backup to Contreras, it was a curious thing. Chris Gimenez was signed to ostensibly be the personal catcher to Yu Darvish, but Caratini’s spring forced the Cubs’ hand. Even with solid numbers to start the year, Caratini was optioned to the minors in late May, likely because Gimenez had an opt-out clause on June 1 that would have allowed him to become a free agent. The Cubs seemingly took that opt-out seriously, bringing him up to the big leagues at the expense of Caratini.
Clearly, the experiment did not pan out. Not only did Gimenez perform poorly offensively — which, let’s be honest, was expected — his presence had no effect on Darvish because he never caught Yu in a game this year. The timing of Gimenez replacing Caratini on the roster was born out of a perceived necessity (keeping him in a Cubs uniform) more so than it was an actual need. I say this because Caratini was hitting .262/.304/.308 at the time of his demotion, hardly inspiring but certainly beyond passable for a backup catcher.
The Importance of Victor
When Gimenez was DFA’d, bringing Caratini back up to the big league squad, I literally sighed with relief. Not only had he proved himself an effective backup, he remained one of the few prospects for the Cubs that could still provide value on the 25-man roster. While reports on Caratini’s defense aren’t perfect, he remains more than passable defensively while providing, at worst, league average offense for a catcher.
It’s hard to spill ink over a backup catcher with a tremendous amount of excitement. It’s also important to note how vital it is to keep your starting catcher healthy. If you look at the names of the best catchers in baseball throughout the league, you’ll notice that they have either largely transitioned (Joe Mauer) or have been given ample rest (Buster Posey). Even the poster boy for durable catchers, Yadier Molina, has faced a bit of a decline in games played this season, unsurprisingly due to a DL stint.
All About Willson
This is all to say that Willson Contreras, who started the All-Star Game behind the dish, needs more rest in the second half. I’ll rely on Maddon to be creative in getting it done, but a refreshed Contreras for the playoffs — when he’ll start every game without question — is better for the Cubs, better for Caratini’s development and better for the team’s chances to win another World Series title.
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