The Twins knew they needed another catcher to pair with Ryan Jeffers last offseason and went out and addressed that need by signing veteran Christian Vázquez to a three-year, $30 million deal.
When the season began, Vázquez was starting two out of every three games. But Jeffers’ performance led the Twins into a fairly even playing time split for most of the season, and by the time the postseason rolled around, Vázquez never even saw the field.
The Twins seem to prefer having two catchers share the duties to keep both of them fresh so as they move into next year, with both under contract, a similar split seems like the likely path moving forward.
On the day that the Twins officially signed Vázquez last December, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said that the two-time World Series-winning backstop would take on “primary duties” behind the plate. And in the first month of the season, he did, playing in 20 games to Jeffers’ 12.
But a strong offensive season from Jeffers and an underwhelming year at the plate for Vázquez ended up landing the two in a situation where they simply alternated starts behind the plate for most of the season.
Vázquez wound up playing in 102 games, also appearing occasionally late in games at first base and once even at second. Jeffers played in 96 games, seeing some designated hitter duties come his way, as well.
In his first season with the Twins, Vázquez, known first for his defense, hit, got on base and slugged at levels lower than his career norms, finishing the season hitting .223 with a .598 OPS.
Jeffers, who spent last offseason rebuilding his swing, saw the fruits of that hard work, hitting .276 with an .858 OPS. He finished the season with a career-high 134 OPS+, a mark 34 percent higher than a league-average hitter. He also ended the season with a 3.3 bWAR (Wins Above Replacement per Baseball Reference), which was tops among all Twins position players and tied for second on the team with starting pitcher Pablo López.
“We often don’t talk about the season that Ryan Jeffers had, and ultimately may have been as good a season at catcher as could have been imagined going into this in terms of the way he approached the defensive side, got better over there, but obviously the offense too,” Falvey said.
Remarkably, neither missed a game and the Twins went the entire season using just two catchers.
Their success keeping both catchers fresh and healthy, the Twins believe, is because of how they allocate playing time.
It seems likely that the Twins run it back with both Jeffers and Vázquez again next season, employing a split that looks somewhat similar, even though the $10 million going towards Vázquez’s contract could potentially be better allocated. The Twins do have a catcher in the minor leagues, Jair Camargo, who hit 21 home runs with the Saints last season and posted a .826 OPS. He could be an option if either of the two suffer an injury.
“I think having a catching team works best in 2023,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I just think you’re going to get the most out of your guys when they’re both actively out there on a regular basis. … We have guys in Ryan and Vasky that are both going to be out there regularly. They’re both going to play. They’re both going to be catching all of our pitchers.”
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