Catching Notes: Cubs, Murphy, Astros, Contreras, Cardinals

9:45PM: The Cubs are also showing interest in Murphy, as per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (Twitter link).

8:56PM: The Astros are the latest team to explore a trade for Athletics catcher Sean Murphyaccording to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (Twitter link). Houston joins a lengthy list of suitors known to include such teams as the Guardians, Twins, White Sox, Red Sox, Rays, and Cardinals.

The A’s are surely commanding a high price tag in any Murphy deal, and the cost could possibly be a little steeper for one of Oakland’s AL West rivals. Nonetheless, the Astros have a good amount of young talent that could catch the Athletics’ interest, and Houston might feel the acquisition cost is worth it to add a former Gold Glover who is under control through the 2025 season.

Defense and game-calling has long been a priority behind the plate for the Astros, which is why the team has stuck with Martin Maldonado even though Maldonado’s offense has sharply fallen off in the last two seasons. However, the Astros did acquire Christian Vazquez at last year’s trade deadline, and Vazquez, Willson Contreras, and now Murphy has emerged on Houston’s radar this offseason. Whereas Contreras could be fit into the lineup as a DH or as a left fielder, Murphy has played exclusively as a catcher during his pro career, and moving a strong defender like Murphy away from the catcher’s position could be seen as a bit of a waste .

That said, the Astros might also simply install Murphy as the regular catcher and move Maldonado into more of a clear backup role. Maldonado is only under contract through the 2023 season, and thus Murphy provides more of a longer-term answer behind the plate.

If Houston didn’t want to meet Oakland’s demands for Murphy, signing Contreras would cost only money and pick a compensatory draft rather than prospect depth, which might be preferable for the Astros in the bigger picture. Contreras has long been of interest to the Astros, and former general manager James Click had arranged a trade at the deadline that would have sent Jose Urquidy to the Cubs for Contreras, but Houston owner Jim Crane vetoed the proposed deal on advice from manager Dusty Baker.

With the Astros now set to meet with Contreras as a free agent, Baker clarified his objection to the midseason deal. “It’s not that I didn’t want him, at the time, I just didn’t think it was the proper fit with two months to go in the season,” Baker told The Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome and other reporters today. “You have to learn the pitching staff, how we go about doing things, and I didn’t feel there was enough time to do that.”

Obtaining a more defensively-sound catcher like Vazquez was apparently more acceptable in Baker’s view, and it also certainly helped that Vazquez only cost the Astros two position-player prospects (Emmanuel Valdez other Wilyer Abreu) rather than a solid pitcher like Urquidy. Since Justin Verander has now left the Astros to sign with the Mets, Urquidy has some added importance to an Astros rotation that is still quite strong, even without the AL Cy Young Award winner.

While the catching market is usually pretty thin, there have been plenty of rumblings about backstops this winter, given the presence of Contreras and Vazquez in the free agent market, as well as major trade chips (ie Murphy, or the Blue Jays’ and Braves ‘ catchers) all perhaps in play. Since Yadier Molina has now retired, the Cardinals have one of the more pressing needs at the position, and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that trading for Murphy “is atop their list” among the many options. If the Cards traded for a catcher rather than spending bigger to sign a free agent like Contreras, Goold speculates that the team could then re-allocate any extra budget space towards a free agent, potentially even one of the remaining top shortstops like Dansby Swanson.

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