One of the most under the radar mid-season acquisitions by the Cubs was an absolute home run. Well, at least as much of a home run as a late August waiver claim for a third string catcher can be. That acquisition was third strong catcher Rene Rivera.
2017 Stats (With Cubs): .341/.408/.591, .327 TAv in 50 plate appearances.
Year in Review: Rivera, a career backup catcher, was claimed off waivers from the Mets on August 19th. While Rivera has always been known for his framing ability and strong arm, it was the bat that really stood out in his stint with the Cubs. Most don’t expect a third string catcher to post a 1.000 OPS, but that’s exactly what Rivera did over 50 plate appearances (Small sample alert) on the north side. It wasn’t enough for him to crack the postseason roster, but that was more a result of the Cubs thinking the speed and defense of Leonys Martin was a better fit for the roster. While his run with the Cubs this year was certainly short, it definitely had impact both offensively and defensively.
Looking Ahead: With Alex Avila and Rivera set to be free agents, odds are good that the Cubs will be in the market for a backup catcher. The decision that has to be made is whether the Cubs want the veteran defender with the lighter bat (Despite his Cubs numbers, no I don’t expect Rivera to repeat what he did in Chicago) or if they want the younger bat first in Victor Caratini. While there is a lot to like in Caratini’s game, and word is that he really impressed the Cubs coaching staff in his time in the big leagues in 2017, I am definitely a proponent of having a veteran to complement the younger Willson Contreras.
Alex Avila might potentially be a better fit baseball-wise as he is a lefty who could occasionally relieve Contreras against right-handed pitching, but Avila had a great year and has likely earned himself a starting gig and more money elsewhere. Rivera might not be a left-hander that would perfectly complement Contreras, but I think he would be a great fit for the backup job. Rivera made $1.75 million in 2017 and shouldn’t expect to see much more than that in 2018. A one-year deal between $2-3 million should be about right. As long as Rivera enjoyed his time in Chicago, it would be an absolutely great situation for any backup catcher to join.
While it might not be a strict platoon like some teams often use with backup catchers, the Cubs could pair Rivera with one of the Cubs starters to be a personal catcher or they could allow him to start against most lefties, given that he has hit lefties better than righties over the course of his career. In order to keep Contreras’ bat in the lineup against lefties, they could even potentially put Willson in left field and have Rivera behind the plate against left-handers. Given the coaching staff’s affinity for Victor Caratini, I am not sure if they will opt to keep a veteran around or if they will go with the young Caratini. However if they do go with a veteran at the backup catcher spot, there really is no better option out there than Rene Rivera.
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports