With the 2022 regular season over, it is that time where we go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this past season.
Today, we look at catcher Mitch Garver.
As we have discussed before, the problem with injury-prone players is that they tend to get injured a lot. They give you glimpses and when they are on the field provide reasons for enthusiasm, lead you to say “if Johnny Brokeleg can just stay healthy this year...” and fantasize about benefitting from a full season of production.
And then they get hurt and you are vexed and frustrated and mad.
Such is Mitch Garver.
The Rangers picked him up last offseason for the low, low price of a superfluous Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ronny Henriquez, one of the Rangers myriad of arms in the minors. They landed a starting catcher with two years of team control remaining for a couple of guys they didn’t really need while clearing a 40 man roster spot in the process. What a deal!
Of course, the reason Garver was available for so little was because of that whole injury-prone thing. Despite being 31 when the 2022 season began Garver had only played in 309 games in the majors, in part because he didn’t even make it to the majors until his age 26 season, and in part because he couldn’t stay on the field. Garver had registered just 243 plate appearances in 2021, and his career high in plate appearances was 359 times to the plate in 2019.
That’s not great.
But — but! — when he’s on the field, Garver hits. He put up a .273/.365/.630 slash line in that 2019 season, earning a Silver Slugger at catcher and resulting in a 4.1 bWAR despite barely having a half-season’s worth of plate appearances on the year. He had an 875 OPS in his limited action in 2021, the year before he was sent to Texas. For his career, Garver had slashed .256/.341/.494, good for a 124 OPS+, in his career prior to 2022.
That’s really good for any hitter. It is elite for a catcher.
Yes, Garver wasn’t a particularly good defensive catcher, but if you put up a 124 OPS+ you don’t have to be Jimmy Sundberg or a Molina Brother back there.
We, as Rangers fans, didn’t get much of an opportunity to evaluate Garver’s defensive abilities first hand in 2022. Garver only registered 14 games behind the plate last year, the final one coming on May 8 at the Yankees. He went on the injured list after that due to a flexor tendon problem in his right elbow — his throwing elbow, of course, since for whatever reason there are no lefthanded catchers — and upon his return, he was limited to DH duties.
Now, Garver being unable to catch after the first week of May wasn’t as big a problem as it could have been, as Jonah Heim stepped up and had a solid year both at and behind the plate, though Heim had a late season slump that may have been attributable to the heavy workload he had to carry in Garver’s absence. Still, it was a not insignificant loss.
Garver actually hit fairly decently upon his return — he slashed .209/.302/.446 after returning from the injured list in late May, despite an ugly .225 BABIP — which back of the envelope calculations indicate is roughly a 110 OPS+. His return didn’t last terribly long, however. Garver was going to need surgery on his flexor tendon surgery, and he had a choice between waiting until the end of the season — in which case he likely would not be ready to start the 2023 season, particularly not at catcher — or cutting his 2022 campaign short and going under the knife early.
Garver opted for the latter. He stuck it out long enough to play against his former team, the Minnesota Twins, in a three game series from July 8-10. Once that series wrapped up, he went on the injured list, went under the knife, and his 2022 season was over.
The expectation is that Garver should be ready to go for Opening Day, 2023. Whether that will be at catcher or at DH remains to be seen. Well, he almost certainly is going to be getting DH time regardless of what happens, but the question is whether he will be primarily a DH, with the Rangers bringing in a backup to Heim, or whether he will get significant time behind the plate as well.
Some of that may depend on how he is throwing this spring, how his coming along from his surgery. The Rangers’ failure to land a legitimate starting left fielder, however, may also end up having an impact on where Garver gets his at bats in 2023. Had Texas landed a Michael Conforto or a Mitch Haniger, giving them a legit everyday left fielder, the DH spot may have been used as a way to rotate players in and out, provide for half-days off for regulars. With any acquisition at this point likely to be someone who is more of a role player, however, and left field unsettled, the DH spot may be more likely to be earmarked for Garver.
I expect we will see the Rangers keep another catcher besides Heim and Garver, with Garver getting the occasional action behind the plate, but primarily being used as a DH and as a backup 1B. Garver’s offense isn’t as much of an asset at the DH position as it is behind the plate, but then, it may be more likely he can stay in the lineup and produce as a DH than as a regular catcher.