Chicago Cubs: The Cubs catcher conundrum with Kyle Schwarber


by - Staff Writer -
Daniel Bartel - USA Today Sports
Daniel Bartel - USA Today Sports

As the Cubs were putting a bow on their convincing three-game weekend sweep of the rival Milwaukee Brewers, the rest of Cubs nation collectively held their breath awaiting news on their all-star backstop.

Willson Contreras hit a line shot into the left-center field gap that was tracked down by gold-glove candidate Lorenzo Cain, but as that play was quickly forgotten, the all-star’s trip to first base is what was story-worthy. Contreras made it about two full steps out of the box before grabbing at his right hamstring and hobbling toward first base. On his way to the bench, TV cameras caught Contreras shouting in anger of his injury before later capturing him burying his head in his jersey with tears in his eyes.

That sight was extremely tough to see for the Cubs as Contreras has been acclaimed for being the guy the Cubs “plug in to.” The Cubs’ reliable backstop was placed on the 10-day IL ahead of Sunday’s finale with the Brewers, and Taylor Davis was recalled from triple-a Iowa to rejoin the big league roster. The bad news did not come until Monday when Jesse Rogers announced it among other media members that Contreras is expected to miss roughly four weeks with a right hamstring injury, the same injury he suffered in 2017 and lost almost thirty games.

The irony in the injury is in the fact that Contreras’ injury came just three days after the Cubs flipped their depth piece in Martin Maldonado back to the Astros for Tony Kemp. Now the Cubs are faced with the same situation that they prepared for when acquiring Maldonado in the first place: lack of depth behind the plate. With Maldonado gone, the Cubs catcher situation looks like Victor Caratini and Taylor Davis.

Both Cubs’ catchers are familiar with the Cubs’ pitching staff, and very well respected within the organization. Caratini is known for his ability to put together a quality at-bat from both sides of the plate, and for being Yu Darvish’s personal catcher. Caratini has had a good year at the plate, with a .264 average including five homers and 21 RBI in limited plate appearances. Caratini and Davis alike are better framers than Contreras, while Davis is also known for his early-season grand slam against the Cardinals to put the icing on a weekend sweep of the Red Birds in May.

The Cubs will mostly miss Contreras offensively. The two-time all-star has clubbed 19 homers and driven in 57 runs to go with a solid .275 batting average. Contreras also sports a 130 wRC+ which ranks first among catchers in all of baseball.

With Wednesday, July 31st being the hard trade deadline, it is now impossible for the Cubs to make a waiver-trade deal in August. However, if there is a player who has not yet played in the big leagues this season, the Cubs would be able to make a deal for him. Players like Nick Hundley or Bobby Wilson come to mind as options behind the plate for those types of transactions.

The Angels also recently designated former Brewer Jonathon Lucroy for assignment, so if he were to clear waivers, the Cubs could sign him as a free agent for a veteran minimum contract. Otherwise, the Cubs could decide to take on his contract, but it is unknown if they would be able to afford the million dollars or so that he is still owed.

It does seem like the Cubs are content with giving Victor Caratini his well-earned shot at the bulk of the innings behind the plate and are more than confident in Taylor Davis as a capable back-up down the stretch until Willson Contreras is ready to return.

However, many people seem to forget that Kyle Schwarber’s natural position is catcher. Schwarber has morphed into a corner outfielder, but the determined left-hander certainly believes that he is capable of catching. The Cubs have been hesitant to put Schwarber behind the plate ever since they drafted him. Initially, they feared that he was too slow behind the plate, but that was nearly a hundred pounds ago. The next fear was that his knee would act up on him after tearing his ACL in 2016, but that was over three years ago, and Schwarber looks stronger than ever.

His last appearance behind the plate was in September of 2017, but Schwarber was spotted on Sunday pregame wearing a catcher’s glove in the outfield.

With Nicholas Castellanos complicating the outfield situation for Schwarber a bit and his bat hitting his way into the lineup (25 HR 55 RBI), the return of Ben Zobrist to the lineup and outfield situation in the near future and a clear opening for an inning eater behind the plate, don’t count out the idea of number 12 behind the plate.

Nonetheless, the Cubs would love to have Willson Contreras behind the plate and hope to have him back as soon as possible. But with answers within the organization in Victor Caratini and Taylor Davis, a dark-horse emergency catcher in Kyle Schwarber and potential help on the way from outside of the organization, the Cubs hope to fill the hole that the absence of their all-star catcher leaves.

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