State of the Cubs: Where roster stands at catcher entering crucial offseason
The 2022 season is over and the Cubs are facing one of the most important offseasons in recent memory. Before the stove starts heating up, we examine where the Cubs depth chart stands at each position and where the holes might be for Jed Hoyer’s front office to fill.
First up: Catcher
1. Yan Gomes
2. P.J. Higgins
3. Miguel Amaya
This position all comes down to the Willson Contreras situation. Hoyer confirmed the obvious Monday: The team will extend a qualifying offer to Contreras for 2023. If he accepts, he will be under contract on a 1-year deal worth between $18-19 million and the two sides could potentially discuss a longer term deal beyond that.
Contreras missed a month with an ankle injury toward the end of 2022 but he still earned his 3rd start for the National League squad in the All-Star game. He also smacked 22 homers with an .815 OPS and was third on the Cubs with 3.9 WAR.
He turns 31 in May and will likely look to maximize his age and value with a deal on the open market but he has also stated how much he loves Chicago and Cubs fans.
Before the lockout began in December, the Cubs signed the veteran Gomes to a 2-year deal with a team option for 2024. He is making a reasonable $6 million and provided the Cubs exactly what they were hoping for in 2022.
After a revolving door at backup catcher in 2021, Gomes added some stability by playing in 86 games. He didn’t have a major impact offensively (.235/.260/.365 slash line, .625 OPS) but he did hit 8 homers with 31 RBI and was worth 0.8 WAR thanks to stellar defense.
Gomes is a proven winner with a World Series ring (2019 Nationals) and 22 career playoff games over 5 postseasons with Cleveland and Washington. He has caught pitchers like Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber and Stephen Strasburg throughout his 11-year MLB career.
Higgins received his first extended look in the big leagues in 2022 after appearing in only 9 games last season due to a forearm injury. He performed solidly at the plate with a nearly league-average bat (95 OPS+), though that number looked a lot better earlier in the season. Higgins carried a .283/.356/.528 slash line (.884 OPS) through Aug. 17 (43 games, 119 plate appearances) before hitting .168 with 0 homers the rest of the way (31 games, 110 plate appearances).
In total, Higgins was worth 0.0 WAR as he adjusted to life in the big leagues but the Cubs like his work behind the plate and his versatility (he can also play third and first base) and he is under team control through the 2027 season.
Amaya is the likely catcher of the future and one of the organization’s top prospects. But he has been limited to only 63 minor league games over the last 3 years due to the pandemic and injury. He had Tommy John surgery on his elbow last fall and then needed surgery again to repair a Lisfranc injury in his foot last month.
Amaya will be 24 in March and has shown potential on both sides of the ball, including an .824 OPS and 6 homers in 40 games as a DH in 2022 while recovering from the elbow injury.
“He’s a really good prospect, really talented and a great kid,” Hoyer said. “He just hasn’t been able to get over the hump from an injury standpoint. Certainly the injury that is costing him the rest of this season now, he’ll have to make up those at bats next year.
“He’s still a really good prospect. I think he’s gonna be really good player, but he’s hasn’t been able to get on the field.”
The first order of business for the Cubs front office is officially extending the qualifying offer to Contreras. Once he makes that decision, the Cubs can move on from there.
If he returns, the team is in a great spot at catcher once again with Contreras and Gomes. If Contreras moves on and tests the free agent market, the Cubs move on to the next question: Are they comfortable with Gomes as the everyday starter and Higgins as the backup?
The Cubs certainly love Gomes and what he brings to the table behind the plate.
“He really commands respect from [the pitchers],” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “Plus, he’s so open to new ideas, new thought processes. He’s like having another coach. If you want to get something done, a lot of times, we don’t even have to sell it — he’ll do it for us and the guys trust and believe in him. We feel extremely lucky.”
The Cubs pitching staff had a 3.72 ERA when Gomes was behind the plate in 2022. He will turn 36 in July, so there may be some question as to whether he can hold up to everyday playing time throughout the course of a long season and a potential playoff appearance.
If Contreras does move on, the Cubs will likely add another veteran catcher as a depth option either in Triple-A or to serve as Gomes’ backup while Higgins begins the year in the minors.
It’s unknown how much Amaya will be able to contribute to the big-league team in 2023 — if anything. He is already on the 40-man roster but the young prospect has only appeared in 53 games at the Double-A level and just 12 of those have been at catcher.
If the recovery from the foot injury goes smoothly, the best case scenario for Amaya might be starting 2023 at Triple-A Iowa.
This is all about Contreras first and foremost. If he moves on, the Cubs have a good plan in place with Gomes and Higgins — especially defensively. But the team could use more offense from the position and will need to add depth in case of injury.