The first of the Brewers free agents to sign elsewhere is off the board. It was reported late Tuesday night that Victor Caratini has signed a two year, $12MM contract with the Houston Astros.
It was widely expected that Caratini would not come back to the Brewrs in 2024. They had an MVP vote-getter in William Contreras entrenched as the starter and Caratini put up a solid enough season to get an opportunity to start for another team. His price at $6MM per season would be far too much for the Brewers to be willing to pay their backup catcher.
The Brewers have just two catchers on the 40 man roster, Contreras and Jeferson Quero. Quero hasn't yet made his MLB debut and it's highly likely the Brewers add a more experienced catcher to the 40 man before spring training begins. Quero hasn't even played Triple-A yet so it's unlikely they go into 2024 planning on him being the backup to Contreras.
That means the Brewers will need to make an external addition to find William Contreras' next backup. Here are some options:
1. Austin Hedges
To say Austin Hedges is a light-hitting catcher would be an understatement. Even among other light-hitting backup catchers, Hedges a very light hitter. He has a career .189/.246/.321 slash line with a career 55 OPS+. He's coming off a season with an OPS+ of 27. The league average is 100.
However, Hedges has been able to stick around the major leagues for so long because he's an absolutely outstanding defensive catcher. On the days when Contreras needs to give his legs some rest, the Brewers could feel comfortable turning to Hedges behind the plate and knowing they'll get an excellent game from him back there. Anything he can bring with the bat in his hands is just gravy, the expectations there are quite low.
When the Brewers hired Pat Murphy as manager, Hedges raved about the hiring and talked about his experience playing for Murph. Hedges and Murphy clearly have a strong relationship and that could certainly lead to the Brewers bringing him in to be the backup to Contreras. Weaker connections have led to free agent signings before and a good relationship between a free agent and a new manager with a clear roster opening makes Hedges a logical option.
2. Tucker Barnhart
Tucker Barnhart should be a familiar name to Brewers fans, He played for the Reds from 2014-2021 and has spent the last two seasons with the Tigers and Cubs. He had some good years in Cincinnati and is a career .243 hitter.
Barnhart is coming off a down year with Chicago where he played in just 43 games and hit only .202 with a .541 OPS. Like most backup catchers on the market, he has a reputation for being a strong defender behind the dish and has two Gold Glove awards to his name.
Of the free agent backup catchers, Barnhart may have the best promise of being somewhat playable with the bat, but again, he won't be playing very often with Contreras ahead of him on the depth chart.
3. Jorge Alfaro
Jorge Alfaro is a former top prospect that didn't end up living up to the hype. He had some good years, but is now a career journeyman. He had a solid season recently in 2022 with the Padres, hitting .246 with 14 doubles and seven homers.
In 2023, he played in the majors for both the Rockies and Red Sox, accumulating just 48 ABs. He spent most of his time in Triple-A. However, in Triple-A Worcester, Alfaro hit .320 with 13 doubles, six homers, and an .887 OPS. Perhaps he's found something in his swing down there.
Alfaro is a solid defender that has one of the best pop times in all of baseball. He's not far removed from being a serviceable bat in the big leagues and he'll cut down on the running game when he plays. He can be brought in for cheap, he has lots of big league experience, and would be a solid choice to back up William Contreras in 2024.