The Brewers have signed catcher Luke Maile to a free agent contract. What does this mean for the rest of the catching group?
This move was unexpected, but then again, when has anyone been able to accurately predict what David Stearns & Co. were going to do next? The Brewers are extremely tight-lipped about offseason moves before they happen.
After a 2020 season in which the Brewers had abysmal offensive production out of the catcher position, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Brewers would look to make a change. But the fact that it was the first change they made and who they made it with that’s surprising.
Why Luke Maile?
To remedy this, the Brewers signed Luke Maile, who has a career batting average of .198? They couldn’t go for an offensive upgrade in James McCann or Wilson Ramos or someone with an offensive track record better than that?
Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound right. Sure, the Brewers might have to go bargain hunting this year, but really?
Before we get too much further, there’s a very important thing to mention: Maile has a minor league option remaining. So although he was signed to a major league contract, Maile can be sent to Triple-A no problem.
It’s long been known that Brewers President of Baseball Ops David Stearns likes having roster flexibility and having guys with minor league options. You know who doesn’t have minor league options remaining? That would be Nottingham and David Freitas.
Nottingham has showed little in his opportunities at the big league level over the past three years. He is a solid defender and has some pop, but he strikes out a ton and doesn’t make a lot of contact. Freitas was the 2019 Triple-A batting champion but he wasn’t able to translate that into success in the big leagues when he was called up in 2019.
The Brewers 40 man roster currently holds six catchers with the addition of Maile. That seems like too many and the Brewers won’t actually carry that many into the 2021 season. Someone from this current group will be gone, but who will it be?
Both Narvaez and Pina are arbitration-eligible, and the tender/non-tender decisions on them are due soon. Either one, or even both could be non-tendered. Heck, perhaps neither of them get non-tendered either.
Maile has been a capable big league backup for the last six years. He’s not a starter, and the Brewers are not signing him with the idea of making him the starter.
A Theory on the catching plan
Here’s one possible theory on what the plan is with the Maile signing.
Manny Pina underwent knee surgery this year and is entering his mid-30s. As good as Pina has been, knee surgeries for catchers, especially older ones, can be problematic. The Brewers will want to see if Pina can come back from surgery and be just fine in 2021, but they need to be prepared.
Both Nottingham and Freitas are out of options and can’t be sent down to start the season to wait and see how Pina’s knee holds up. By signing Maile, the Brewers have a right-handed bat that can platoon/backup Narvaez if need be, and can be stashed in the minors if Pina comes back as he was before.
It maintains flexibility with the roster, ensures there will be catching depth that’s big league ready, and is an insurance policy in case Pina’s return from knee surgery doesn’t go as planned.
That’s my theory on how this could work. There’s a good chance both Pina and Narvaez get tendered a contract, and if they both stay, that theory is going to be the position that Maile will find himself in.
If neither Pina nor Narvaez get non-tendered by the Brewers, the writing is on the wall for either Nottingham or Freitas.
We’ll see in a couple of hours what the Brewers decide to do with the non-tender deadline, but the timing of the Maile signing is very intriguing in terms of what it means for Pina and Narvaez.