There’s only two weeks left in the regular season, and half the league is all but officially out of postseason contention at this point. All 30 teams are assuredly looking ahead to the offseason to some extent, and that’s all the more true for the clubs that are merely playing out the string. Identifying free agent targets is a big part of that offseason prep work, so it’s worth taking an early look at the players who’ll be available on the open market.

Over the coming weeks, MLBTR will go around the diamond to preview the free agent class. We’ll begin today with the backstops, a group that seemed rather deep entering the 2022 season but has since seen most of its membership struggle through subpar years.

 

Top of the Class

Willson Contreras (31*)

Contreras is the unquestioned top player on this year’s catching class. He’s one of the game’s preeminent offensive backstops, eclipsing 20 home runs in each of the past three full seasons. Contreras hits a lot of ground-balls and has a fair bit of swing-and-miss to his game, but his exit velocities and hard contact rates are consistently well above average. That’s also true of his bottom-line results. Through 462 plate appearances, Contreras carries a .246/.351/.471 line that shatters the .229/.297/.370 mark compiled by catchers around the league. He’s tailed off a bit in the second half after an All-Star first few months, but he has a multi-year track record as one of the better hitting catchers in the game.

The concerns with Contreras lie on the other side of the ball. He owns a solid arm, but public pitch framing metrics have never been enamored with his work. Reports leading up to the trade deadline suggested some teams were wary of adding him midseason, questioning his ability to adapt to and manage a new pitching staff on the fly.

That’s perhaps not as concerning for teams considering a free agent pursuit — Contreras would have part of the offseason and Spring Training to connect with his pitchers — but there was ostensibly enough worry about his game-calling acumen that no team met the Cubs lofty asking price this summer. How much one should read into Contreras not being traded is tough to tell, but it will have a tangible effect on his free agent market. He’s now eligible for the qualifying offer, which he’ll surely receive and reject. Any signing team will have to surrender a draft choice to bring him aboard, which wouldn’t have been the case if he were moved midseason, since players traded midseason are ineligible for a QO.

 

Regulars

Christian Vázquez (32)

A longtime member of the Red Sox, Vázquez was dealt to the Astros midseason. He’s assumed more of a 1b/backup role there behind Martín Maldonado, but he was a regular in Boston and will likely be viewed as such by any team that signs him this offseason. Vázquez is a solid two-way catcher, an above-average defender who’s generally competent with the bat. He’s rated as a high-end pitch framer throughout his career, although his numbers have been roughly average the past two years.

He’s typically solid at cutting down opposing base-stealers, and he’s drawn strong reviews for his game management and leadership in a clubhouse. Vázquez isn’t an impact hitter, but he puts the ball in play and consistently runs strong batting averages. His .275/.318/.396 line is about average overall but clearly above-average for a catcher, and he’s capable of holding his own at the bottom third of a lineup. Vázquez may not have a standout skill, but he’s a well-rounded player who’d be an upgrade for a fair number of teams.