The Red Sox are in agreement with free agent backstop Jorge Alfaro on a minor league contract, reports Chris Cotillo of MassLive (Twitter link). He’ll receive a $2MM base salary if he cracks the MLB roster and would have the ability to opt out and return to free agency on both June 1 and July 1 if he hasn’t yet been called up.
Alfaro, 29, has played in each of the last seven big league campaigns. A top prospect in the Rangers’ and Phillies’ farm systems, he went from Texas to Philadelphia in the Cole Hamels deadline blockbuster in 2015. Alfaro debuted with Philadelphia in 2016 and would spend parts of the following two seasons as their primary catcher. He flashed the massive power and arm strength that had made him such a highly-regarded minor league talent but struck out in 35.2% of his plate appearances as a Phillie.
After the 2018 season, Philadelphia packaged him with Sixto Sanchez to the division-rival Marlins for JT Realmuto. Miami had hoped Alfaro would step in as a big league ready replacement for their outgoing star catcher. Alfaro was their primary catcher for the next three seasons but continued to perform at an inconsistent level, largely thanks to his strikeout issues.
The Padres took a shot on the Colombian-born player in a minor trade last offseason. Alfaro cracked the Opening Day roster after a massive Spring Training and went on to appear in just over half the team’s games. He tallied 274 plate appearances, hitting .246/.285/.383 with seven home runs and a 35.8% strikeout percentage. At season’s end, San Diego un-tendered him rather than retain him for a projected $3.6MM arbitration salary.
In a little under 500 MLB games, Alfaro is a .256/.305/.396 hitter. He’s picked up 47 homers and made plenty of hard contact. His on-base numbers have been muted by his subpar strikeout and walk profile, though, as he’s drawn free passes 4.2% of the time while fanning in over 34% of his trips. It’s been a somewhat similar boom or bust profile defensively. Alfaro has a top-tier throwing arm and has cut down a solid 27.5% of attempted basestealers throughout his career. Yet he’s also rated as a below-average pitch framer and overall receiver, per the metrics at Statcast and Baseball Prospectus.
While Alfaro’s overall body of work has been up and down, he represents a low-risk upside play for a Boston club that has an uncertain catching mix. Reese McGuire and Connor Wong currently look set for a loose platoon arrangement behind the dish. They’re the only backstops on the Red Sox’s 40-man roster, and neither has an extended track record as an MLB regular. Alfaro’s an experienced depth option who can battle for a job in Spring Training and/or start the season at Triple-A Worcester as injury insurance.
Alfaro has over five years of major league service time, meaning he can’t be optioned to the minor leagues. If he cracks the MLB roster at any point, Boston will either have to keep him in the majors or make him available to other clubs via trade or waivers. If Alfaro spends 89 days on the MLB active roster or injured list next season, he’d surpass the six-year service threshold and qualify for free agency next offseason. If he’s on the roster for 88 days or fewer overall but on the 40-man at season’s end, he’d be eligible for arbitration for the 2024 campaign.