By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The White Sox said goodbye to starting catcher Tyler Flowers on Wednesday when they declined to tender him a contract, thus making him a free agent. General manager Rick Hahn said in a conference call that the addition of another catcher will be official in the next few days via free agency or trade.
As a starter, the friendly and durable Flowers had great metric numbers in pitch framing and several defensive areas. But the inconsistent numbers on offense and 15 passed balls last season led the team to make a change moving toward 2016.
Flowers hit .239 with nine homers and 39 RBIs in 112 games in 2015.
“As for Flowers, he has been here a long time,” Hahn said. “I commended him today on his professionalism and the class he showed trying to fill big shoes (of A.J. Pierzynski). The decision basically came down to we saw an opportunity to improve the club from an offensive standpoint. At this point we cannot get into specifics of what the next move would be … This move was done as part of a plan.”
Free agents who fill the profile of offensive catchers include Dioner Navarro and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The 31-year-old Navarro has averaged 13 home runs and 59 RBIs per 162 games played. Saltalamacchia, 30, averages 20 home runs and 71 RBIs for every 162 games played.
Any new catcher will be in the mix to share time behind the plate time with newly signed catcher Alex Avila, who agreed to a one-year, $2.5-million deal with the White Sox last week.
Hahn told Avila that the catching roles are wide open going into spring training.
“I spoke with Alex again this afternoon,” Hahn said. “We told him again what we said prior to signing with us (one week ago). That is, there is no cap on any of our catchers’ playing time. Whoever deserves to be the catcher based on performance, matchup or whatever (the manager) deems important will be in there. The player who gives us the best opportunity to win will be starting that day.”
Flowers will have plenty of suitors, considering how thin the catching depth is in the big leagues.
“Tyler has nothing but great memories of his time with the White Sox,” agent Tom O’Connell said. “He had some really good years in Chicago, made a lot of close friends and the pitching staffs flourished with him behind the plate. We have a great chance to talk to numerous clubs now about adding a solid catcher, first-class person and teammate.”
Flowers was groomed to replace the popular Pierzynski and did so three years ago. He’s a career .223 hitter with 46 home runs and 142 RBIs in 431 games. Flowers was acquired from Atlanta in 2008 as part of a six-player trade.
Other free agent catchers include Wilin Rosario and J.P Arencibia. A former Colorado starting catcher, Rosario is the youngest of the group, as he’ll turn 27 in February.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.