The Guardians officially have a problem behind the plate.
Of course, there are problems at the plate as well (an 11-4 loss to the anemic Detroit Tigers is unsettling, to say the least).
But as it stands, the Guardians need a change at catcher.
Cleveland’s recent skid has, at least temporarily, dimmed playoff hopes and deleted all of the progress the club made in early-to-mid June.
As of Wednesday, the Guardians are 4.5 games behind the Twins in the AL Central, holding the slimmest of two-game leads over the White Sox for second place.
But the lack of offense from the catchers isn’t some recent phenomenon.
Since March, Cleveland’s backstops have struggled to make any offensive impact.
Their best hitting catcher is Luke Maile, whose .183 average is likely inflated because of only 81 plate appearances.
Cleveland’s usual starter, Austin Hedges, is batting .160 with just 23 hits against 40 strikeouts in 144 at-bats.
He’s a virtual guaranteed out for any opposing pitcher, which is only going to become more obvious as the season drags on.
Could the Guardians be in the market for a replacement?
1. Wilson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
Contreras’ name is on just about every “Top Trade Pieces” list, including one by Bleacher Report.
And it makes sense.
So far this season, Contreras is slashing .274/.392/.498, with a career-high 4.1 WAR.
By comparison, Maile’s WAR is 0.0, and Hedges’ is somehow worse: minus-.20.
Even more impressive, Contreras has mashed 21 homers on the season, over four times as many as Hedges.
With that number, Contreras would also have the most on Cleveland (61 total HRs), as José Ramirez currently leads the team with 16.
Contreras is a legit star at the position, rated as the second-best catcher in baseball this season by FanGraphs.
Since June 22, when the Guardians’ recent struggles began, Contreras is batting .271 with eight RBIs.
Imagine if those eight RBIs came in Cleveland’s latest skid — it very well could have been the difference in the team’s few tight losses.
At this point, I’m not sure whether the Guardians’ players or fans need an off day more 😂 #ForTheLand
— Christian Zylstra (@Chizzy_CMZ) July 6, 2022
But Chicago knows what it has in Contreras, so a deal for the catcher is going to require Cleveland to fork over major compensation.
Is Contreras worth it?
Depends on what you think of Bryan Lavastida, the team’s current catcher heir-apparent.
In 12 at-bats this season, Lavastida struggled to make an impact, batting just .083 with one hit and four strikeouts.
It’s possible with a little more time to develop, Lavastida will enter the pros ready to contribute day-to-day.
But if Cleveland wants to bring in a legit veteran presence to help with this season and next, Contreras would be a promising addition.
2. Daulton Varsho, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Guardians need a catcher.
Unfortunately, every team that JT Realmuto and Will Smith don’t play for also needs a catcher.
But one team to keep an eye on is Arizona.
The Diamondbacks are “leaning sellers” ahead of the August trade deadline, according to The Athletic.
And while Daulton Varsho isn’t one of the “veterans” that Arizona might be looking to part ways with, Cleveland should at least give the D-Backs a phone call.
Varsho is batting .247 with 41 RBIs this season.
Further, he’s just 26 years old, meaning the Guardians could add another long-term piece to their strong core.
One factor that will go into this decision is how Cleveland feels about Bo Naylor.
Things can’t possibly get worse than they already are, so time to be positive.
Let’s get a win this afternoon to avoid the sweep! #Fortheland
— 216 Baseball Podcast (@216BaseballPod) July 6, 2022
Naylor is currently Cleveland’s no. 2 catching prospect, who was recently promoted to Triple-A with a .282 average this season.
If Naylor (and not Lavistida) is the guy of the future, then the Guardians may not need a young talent like Varsho.
But if Naylor’s the guy, that also means Bryan Lavistida could be a potential piece in a summer trade, given how catchers (and catching prospects) are premium players.