Posted on January 8, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
One year after letting him go in free agency, the Texas Rangers are bringing back catcher Robinson Chirinos. Late Tuesday, the Rangers reached a deal with the veteran catcher. Chirinos will rejoin the Rangers in 2020 with a guaranteed salary of $5.75 million. The deal also includes either a $1 million buyout or a $6.5 million club option for the 2021 season.
The 35-year-old Chirinos broke into the big leagues with the Rays in 2011 but played for the Rangers from 2013 to 2018. He spent most of that time as the team’s primary catcher. However, Texas passed on his option for the 2019 season, making him a free agent. Chirinos stayed in the Lone Star State by signing a one-year deal with the Astros. A year later, the Rangers have had a change of heart and have decided to bring back Chirinos to help upgrade their catching situation for 2020.
Offensively, Chirinos has gotten better with age. The highest home run totals of his career have all come in the last three seasons, including a career-high 18 long balls with the Rangers in 2018. With the Astros in 2019, Chirinos hit .238 with an OPS of .790 thanks to 17 home runs and 22 doubles while helping Houston reach the World Series. If he can replicate those numbers in 2020, Chirinos will provide a massive upgrade over the offensive production the Rangers got from their catchers last season.
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With Chirinos back, the catchers Texas used last season will now serve as depth. Veteran Jeff Mathis was the team’s primary catcher in 2019. He was signed to replace Chirinos last offseason with Texas aiming for a defensive upgrade. However, Mathis produced nothing offensively, hitting just .158 with an OPS of .433. He is now in line to serve as the backup to Chirinos, who will be a step down from Mathis defensively but an improvement offensively.
The Rangers also have a slew of other options behind the plate who could challenge Mathis for playing time or eventually push him out of Texas altogether. Jose Trevino started 32 games behind the plate last season but is likely to serve as minor league depth to start 2020. The Rangers also have Blake Swihart, Nick Ciuffo, and Tim Federowicz coming to spring training on minor-league contracts. All three could conceivably push Mathis for the backup job. Either way, the Rangers have plenty of depth behind Chirinos, who will be penciled in as the starter on opening day.
With the Rangers moving into a new ballpark in 2020, they were hoping to make a big splash this winter. They did that on the mound by trading for Corey Kluber but haven’t made any significant offensive acquisitions this winter. Obviously, Chirinos is not the impact offensive player they had in mind. But considering the lack of productivity that the Rangers got from their catchers last season, signing Chirinos is certainly a step in the right direction. With Chirinos spending six seasons in Texas prior to last season, bringing him back is a smart and safe move as the Rangers try to put a disappointing 2019 season behind them and compete for a playoff spot in 2020.