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MLB rumors: Astros targeting Jonathan Lucroy, J.T. Realmuto

The Astros are doing their homework on a pair of veteran catchers.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Cincinnati Reds Photo by David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros have interest in free-agent catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Marlins backstop J.T. Realmuto, as Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported Friday.

Lucroy, 31, remains on the free-agent market after posting a less-than-stellar .265/.345/.371 slash line with six homers in 2017. With nearly every team already having a starting-caliber catcher, The two-time All-Star may have to settle for a part-time role, so he could be an interesting fit with the Astros.

Realmuto, meanwhile, has emerged as a potential trade candidate in the wake of the Marlins’ massive teardown this winter. The 26-year-old catcher is coming off a season in which he posted a career-best .278/.332/.451 slash line with 17 home runs. He’s entering his first year of arbitration and is under club control through 2020, so he could be a strong value pickup for an Astros club that needs as much available cash as possible over the next two offseasons to try to re-sign Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Jose Altuve.

Heyman writes that Houston would like “a long-term catcher,” which comes as a bit of a surprise considering that they owe Brian McCann $11.5 million in 2018. McCann posted a solid .241/.323/.436 slash line with 18 homers while helping the Astros to their first-ever World Series victory in 2017. But Houston is prepared to use Evan Gattis, who caught 48 games this past season, as their primary designated hitter and a third catcher in 2018.

That will likely leave the Astros looking for a new backup to McCann in 2018, as Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle reported last month, but they’re looking at 26-year-old Max Stassi as an in-house candidate to fill that role. Even if they’re looking for a more established backup, though, cheaper free agents like Rene Rivera, A.J. Ellis, and Chris Stewart could be strong fits.

It’s worth noting, though, that adding a legitimate starter to form a tandem with McCann may be a good way for them to avoid paying McCann’s $15 million vesting option for 2019, one that he’s already unlikely to reach, anyway. McCann needs to total 1,000 plate appearances between 2017-18 (he had 399 in 2017) while also catching 90 games and not ending the regular season on the disabled list in 2018.