Willson Contreras has been at the center of trade rumors this offseason, in part because of his noted framing issues. While he was able to make significant improvements in the second half of 2019, those served to move him from one of the worst framers to about league average. Meanwhile, Victor Caratini actually rated has one of the better framing catchers last season.
According to Baseball Prospectus, Caratini’s adjusted framing score of 4.4 ranked 19th of 56 qualified catchers (min. 2,500 chances), so he was essentially better than two-thirds of MLB. You can see Caratini’s performance highlighted on the left side of the graph below, with Contreras quite a distance off to the right. The starter’s -11.6 framing score actually ranked in the bottom 10% of MLB, though, again, he was much better in the second half.
It’s clear that Caratini has an above-average ability to steal strikes, which is part of the reason he was paired with Yu Darvish last season. Not only can he help pitchers get ahead of the count, but his .338 wOBA in 279 plate appearances last season further suggests that he is a starting caliber backstop. But is that enough to justify making a big trade and installing Caratini as the starter?
Contreras put up a 127 wRC+ last season, making him the best offensive catcher in MLB. And if his second-half defensive improvements are sustainable, he would likely be the most valuable catcher in the league. Paying just $5 million — the amount Contreras is expected to earn via arbitration eligibility — for that kind of potential is borderline criminal.
It also means other teams will be willing to part with multiple prospects and/or MLB talent, so we will continue to hear these rumors until spring training opens. There’s also Caratini’s solid overall performance, which could make a Contreras trade at least slightly easier to swallow. Or maybe that makes Caratini a valuable trade chip as well.