It has long seemed like the upcoming free agent class would be much harder to throw than to hit, and the situation became even more extreme when players at or near the top of the class started, for example, Rafael Devers, Manny MachadoAND Ian Happ extensions signed ahead of the 2023 campaign. At the start of the season, it looked like the only players available in a game-changing position would be the two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani and a gloved third baseman Matt Chapmanespecially when he hits the outfielder Teoscar Hernandez it was hard to open the year. One of the names that didn’t receive much attention on the platform before the season was: Mitch GarverRangers catcher who has played in just 37.8% of his team’s games since the start of the 2020 season due to injury.
Texas defied preseason expectations that it would lead the AL West throughout the first half, lost eight straight games in late August to post a three-way tie with the Mariners and Astros in the win column, and then ultimately fell short of the AL West crown after posting a 90-record 72 identical to the record of division champions Houston. Despite all this uncertainty, Garver’s presence in the club’s lineup brings stability. The 32-year-old has slashed an impressive .270/.370/.500 in 344 outings for the Rangers this season, while posting his lowest strikeout rate (23.8%) since 2019 and career-best walk rate (12.8 %).
To put these numbers into perspective, Garver’s 138 wRC+ this year is a tie Brandon’s belt AND Ryan Jeffers for the 15th best record in the majors among players who appeared in at least 300 games this season. This puts Garver ahead of the others Cody Bellinger, Mike TroutAND Luis Arraezand just a few points that players like Kyle Tucker AND Bryce Harper. What makes Garver’s offensive ability more interesting is his catching ability. Among all catchers with at least 150 plate appearances in 2023, Garver ranks second in strikeout percentage, third in slugging percentage, third in walk rate, and is tied with Jeffers for second in wRC+ (second only to Tom Murphyin a 47-game Mariners season).
Given the lackluster offensive free agent class, Garver’s prowess with the bat and his ability behind the plate, it’s safe to assume the veteran is on track for the highest payday on the market this offseason. However, Garver’s situation is not so simple. In addition to the fact that he will play in the 2024 season at the age of 33, there are also concerns about his long injury history. Garver missed six weeks early in the season with a knee sprain and, in recent years, also with problems with his forearms, groin, back, intercostal joints and ankles. Between those injuries and a catcher role that requires more days off than most regulars, Garver has played in just 209 games over the past three seasons, even though he boasts clear everyday talent when healthy.
After his return from the injured list in June, the Rangers helped Garver stay on the field by using him primarily as a designated hitter. While he performed well in that role, he played in just 25 games behind the plate over the final four months of the season, which will certainly make prospects question Garver’s ability to catch consistently going forward.
As a DH, Garver would still have value, although it would be significantly reduced. Strap and JD Martinez are two examples of defensive-limited sluggers in their 30s who have given up similar numbers to Garver in 2023, with both signing one-year deals last offseason. This does not mean that Garver will have to limit himself to similarly short-term offers, although it is difficult to imagine a player of his age and injury history approaching a much more important contract (five years, $87.5 million) signed by Willson Contreras last year, even though Contreras was a different catcher who produced relatively comparable offensive numbers in recent years.
This seems especially true considering Garver seems best suited to a team with another reliable catching option, so Garver could have a clear path to DH playing time and feel less pressure to be a regular behind the plate. Of course, the Rangers have this arrangement with Jonasz Heim as the club’s everyday catcher and plenty of DH starts available for Garver. The Cubs and Padres are among other teams that could theoretically provide Garver with occasional backstops next year, along with regular backstops Yan Gomes AND Luis Campusano while allowing him to DH most of the time, which seems to be the best approach to maximize both Garver’s talents and time on the field.
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