On Saturday, it was announced that the Seattle Mariners had claimed Rob Brantly off waivers, ripping him away from the bosom of the White Sox. Full disclosure — I harbor quite a bit of Brantly Fondness that has little or nothing to do with his abilities on the field. My cousin brought his young children to Spring Training last year and could not say enough nice things about the former third-string catcher, in terms of being friendly and accessible for the fans. Add in a dash of underdog and antics like this and what’s not to love?
Leaving Brantly unprotected hardly constitutes a mistake by the front office, either. While there are some names on the 40-man roster I might consider more expendable, room needs to be made for Jimmy Rollins, who has been annihilating the ball in Spring Training to tie a bow on his status as “probably the shortstop on Opening Day.”
However, Brantly being plucked away draws further attention to a problem that Rian Wiatt discussed on Friday: the catcher situation might be Real Bad. There are very real questions about both the health, durability, and productivity of both Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro. PECOTA thinks that Hector Sanchez is basically identical to Brantly as approximately replacement level/slightly below.
I’m not here to split hairs between guys like Brantly and Sanchez (I suppose Brantly is a more natural fit with Navarro because he’s a lefty bat instead of a “switch hitter”?), but rather to highlight the potential for disaster at this position. Avila and Navarro are both major-league quality catchers, but Avila has been battered and smashed into a fine paste over the last few years. Meaning, if he were to miss significant time to injury—as he did just last season—it’s going to be Dioner Navarro paired with Hector Sanchez or Kevan “I Can Hit As Long As I’m In My Mid-20s in Rookie Ball” Smith.
Given the nature of the roster as a whole, however, it’s intriguing that Rick Hahn went with this solution at catcher. Above and beyond the questions of framing that Ethan explored in the Offseason Review, this configuration carries a lot of risk in the pursuit of upside on offense. For a team with such a strong core, they may be one extremely injury prone player injury away from the position turning into a black hole. The option may not have been there, if you are pessimistic on Tyler Flowers, but one wonders if a higher-floor positional configuration wouldn’t have been preferable.
And, given how mightily the organization has struggled to repair black holes in the past, Brantly’s departure represents a loss of theoretically competent major-league depth that makes me uneasy. That won’t stop me from rooting for Brantly to jump ahead of Jesus Sucre and Steve Clevenger in Seattle, but consider me officially anxious.