The Brewers currently have a plethora of catchers on their 40-man roster, so a trade of at least one of them wouldn’t be a surprise.
If the offseason was a game and the only way to win it was to hoard as many catchers as possible, the Brewers would have already been crowned supreme champions.
Milwaukee already spent the 2020 season with four catchers – David Freitas, Omar Narvaez, Jacob Nottingham, Manny Pina – on the roster. Then during the offseason, they signed former Pirate Luke Maile and added one of their top prospects in Mario Feliciano to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
The Brewers will most certainly not go into the 2021 season this way, though. That’s because Freitas, Nottingham, and Pina have no minor league options left. And with manager Craig Counsell having recently committed to Narvaez at the top of the catching depth chart, a portion of that trio will likely be removed from the roster one way or another.
The best case scenario for the Brewers would be if that’s in the form of a trade. Should that be the case, the two best trade chips are probably the veteran Pina and the former prospect Nottingham. So of those two, who would be the best asset for Milwaukee to trade?
The case for Manny Pina
If an established veteran catcher with excellent defense and a high aptitude for calling games is what a team wants, then Pina is your man. The 33-year-old has been an important part of Milwaukee’s catching corps for the last four seasons.
Pina can hold his own offensively when necessary with a career .255/.318/.408 slash line and an OPS+ that has never dropped below 86 as a Brewer, though it has also never been above 99. But it’s his defense that plenty of teams would covet as well.
Among his many good defensive qualities is an ability to control the base paths. Pina has a career caught stealing rate of 36% in his seven seasons of playing behind the plate in the majors, with the league average being 27% during those years.
Pina is a proven commodity at this point in his career and teams are generally fine with a catcher with passable offense as long as it comes with above average defense. Pina fits that profile, and though it would make plenty of sense for the Brewers to hold on to him, it could still make him the more valuable trade piece.
The case for Jacob Nottingham
Unlike Pina, Nottingham has had very few chances to prove himself in the majors. Just 25, he has played only 38 games at baseball’s highest level, all as a Milwaukee Brewer. But Nottingham finally got something close to regular playing time last season, coincidentally enough after Pina’s season-ending injury. In 20 games, he ended up slashing .188/.278/.458.
Nottingham was brought to the Brewers as an offense-first catcher back in 2016 as part of the Khris Davis trade with the A’s. Though that offense hasn’t fully developed as expected, some of the potential did show last season as five of his nine hits went for extra bases (1 2B, 4 HR).
While the offense hasn’t met expectations, Nottingham has gained a reputation as a much improved catcher, defensively. Without being a defensive liability, is it possible a team would take him in hoping to unlock the offensive potential that could still be inside?
Add to all of that the eight-year age difference between him and Pina. Though neither have minor league options left, Nottingham’s age and possibility to still develop could actually make him the more enticing trade chip.
Ultimately, it probably comes down to team fit. A rebuilding team could take a chance on Nottingham without much worry, while a competitive one would probably prefer a proven veteran like Pina. Since competing teams are often willing to give up more to make a push to the postseason, that probably makes Pina the more valuable chip.
There’s no guarantee that the Brewers trade one of their catchers with no options and you could definitely see one designated for assignment instead. But it would be a lot better if the team didn’t end up losing one or more of them for nothing.