Everybody has talked about the current logjam in the Cardinals outfield and how they should address it, but there is also a clog at the catcher position trying to find proper playing time for everybody. Andrew Knizner may be the odd man out.
Andrew Knizner has been with the Cardinals since 2016 when he was drafted in the 7th round out of North Carolina State University, and he has spent most of the time in the big leagues with the Cardinals since his MLB debut in 2019.
Despite being a productive offensive player in the minor leagues, the hitting side of Knizner's game never came to fruition at the big league level, which was one reason why the Cardinals went out and signed Willson Contreras to a five-year deal last off-season.
Signing Contreras officially made Knizner the backup, which was the case at least to start the season, but everybody remembers the dramatic mess 35 games into the season when the Cardinals decided to remove Contreras from the catcher spot amid a brutal stretch of poor pitching from the staff.
While the Cardinals were trying to establish some form of faith in Contreras to catch every day, Knizner found himself getting more playing time than most expected, and he took advantage of that extra playing time finally breaking out at the plate. Knizner had nothing short of a breakout with the bat in 2023, especially in the power department. After only hitting 7 home runs from 2019-2022, he hit 10 in 2023 and had a .424 slugging percentage, which was 6th on the team for players who had at least 100 at-bats last season. As the season went on, Contreras began to slowly gain his everyday role back, and "Kiz " struggled offensively down the stretch.
In the next week, the Cardinals will have the option to non-tender Knizner which would send Knizner straight to free agency, skipping through waivers and it is something the Cardinals could consider. Why would they do this? If the Cardinals stay committed to Contreras, who is going into year two of a five-year deal, to be the primary catcher then that doesn't give Knizner the playing time he may deserve, especially if his offensive campaign in 2023 becomes a common theme.
Another thing that could hurt Knizner is Ivan Herrera is in need of a better look. The former top prospect Herrera has only had 66 plate appearances in the past 2 seasons, and he impressed at the plate last season, hitting .297 with a .409 on base in 13 games. Granted Knizner seems to be well respected throughout the clubhouse, and was even dubbed as the "captain" of the team by another very well-respected person, Willie McGee early on in the season, but is he worth keeping if that means Herrera is blocked from getting big league at-bats?
On top of that, MLB.com has 3 catchers on the Cardinals' top 30 prospect lists, how high are the Cardinals on Leonardo Bernal, Jimmy Crooks, and Pedro Pages? Depending on how their development goes, based on the current roster they would just have to wait in line to get a legitimate opportunity.
A common question I always ask when it comes to whether or not a team should trade a certain player is if now is the best time to trade them, or will their value ever be higher than it is now? With Knizner's offensive surge this season and his great leadership qualities, teams could look at him as a dependable backup catcher that they could get cheap. There could be a handful of teams where Knizner would fit nicely, and you can begin with the 2023 World Champs.
The Texas Rangers carried three catchers on their postseason roster en route to their first-ever World Series, two of those three are free agents, Mitch Garver and Austin Hedges. Garver will arguably be the biggest name on the market when it comes to free-agent catchers after his performance in the playoffs, he will have a lot of suitors. It is possible that Garver will be looking to go somewhere where he can play every day, and with Jonah Heim, who is one of the more underrated all-around players in the league with the Rangers, Garver might get more playing time elsewhere. Knizner could be a more traditional backup and if he would put up similar offensive numbers he put up this year, he'd fit in seamlessly to an already potent Rangers lineup.
Looking over at other teams that could fit for Knizner, maybe the Padres who are looking to compete next season, they do not currently have a primary catcher, but the Mariners could see Knizner as an upgrade over free agent Tom Murphy as a backup, and the White Sox could be moving on from 35-year-old catcher Yasmani Grandal. Like most things you will hear during the off-season, this is all speculation, and it's always entertaining to play GM from time to time.
The Cardinals should aggressively be pursuing pitching this winter, while also addressing the current logjams in the outfield and catching positions, there are plenty of ways the team can approach this off-season, and the fan base will be watching very closely.