Catching Option Dwindling for Cubs as Omar Narváez Joins Mets

The Cubs have been monitoring the catching market all winter and were certainly taking notes during the season because they knew they’d be parting ways with Willson Contreras. Seeing the three-time All-Star sign with the Cardinals didn’t alter the Cubs’ plans at all, but it did raise questions about how they’re going to replace his offense across several other spots. Options for landing a backup or timeshare partner for Yan Gomes were thin to start with and they got thinner Thursday night.

Omar Narváez had been discussed internally by the front office, but he has agreed to sign with the Mets for two years and $15 million. That comes shortly after the Cubs’ top target, Christian Vázquez, inked a three-year, $30 million contract in Minnesota. The Cubs reportedly offered the same deal in terms of years and money, but it also included a club option for a fourth year and Vázquez chose to have more control over his future.

Though Sean Murphy was probably not a realistic target for a team that seems to be hugging prospects as tightly as cash, that big trade to the Braves eliminated any pipe dreams. The dwindling market may now be down to Roberto Pérez and Tucker Barnhart, with a trade for one of the Blue Jays’ trio of catchers still a possibility as well.

Pérez spent eight years in Cleveland, during which he won two Gold Gloves and two Fielding Bible Awards, then he spend last season with the Pirates. He dealt with hamstring issues and only got 69 plate appearances, so his unusually high 102 wRC+ might not be as nice as it first appears. He’ll turn 34 in December and would be a solid backup to Gomes.

Barnhart is coming off a rough year in Detroit following a trade from Cincinnati, but he also has two gold gloves and is very familiar with the NL Central. The Brownsburg, IN native still makes his offseason home in Central Indiana and probably prefers to play for a team in the Midwest. Though he’s definitely a glove-first backstop, an argument can be made that a modest rebound is in store because the Tigers messed up several hitters.

The former Red finished 2022 with a 99 wRC+ across his last 110 plate appearances and he’s back to switch-hitting after batting only left-handed in the two previous seasons. Having a little more flexibility is something the Cubs are always looking for and they do need more lefty bats, though Barnhart wouldn’t be counted on to supply much pop. He’ll be 32 in January, so he’s got a couple years on Pérez

Danny Jansen seems like the most likely target from the Jays, but the lack of bigger moves in free agency have me wondering whether the Cubs would really swing a trade like that. At 27 years old, Jansen is much younger than the aforementioned pair and he’s also got two years of club control with two minor league options. He would also supply a lot more offense, which the Cubs need.

That said, it looks more like Jed Hoyer is leaning into pitching and defense up the middle as a means by which to build toward competitiveness. Jansen’s a good defensive catcher, so he does check that box as well. Still, I just get the sense that Hoyer is reluctant to swing any kind of significant swap given the injuries to two of his top prospects.

I’ve been leaning toward Barnhart for a while and I still think there’s a very good possibility that the Cubs bring him in, but this offseason has proven many times over that predictions mean little.

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