2008 Offseason: The Texas catchers


Much has been made of the catching surplus of the Texas Rangers this offseason, and they have announced that they are open to dealing one of them this offseason in return for a package centered around a top-of-the-rotation pitching prospect. This is quite understandable, given the lack of catching talent around the League and the Rangers’ constant lack of pitching. In the context of the Red Sox, we are likely talking about dealing one of Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson or Michael Bowden. Let’s take a closer look at these trade candidates to see what we have here:

Defense

We should be clear, I am in favor of someone who is at least above-average on defense here. I know, we can live with bad defense at lots of positions, but not the catcher, who touches the ball more often than any player on the diamond, save the pitcher. Here I am talking about general athleticism and comfort with the position, plus receiving pitches as well as the ability to throw out would-be basestealers. These skills are difficult, if not impossible, to pick up at the Major League level. Calling a game, framing pitches and handling pitchers can be learned, especially under Jason Varitek.

Here the two standouts are Gerald Laird and Taylor Teagarden. Laird is already a proven big league catcher (at least defensively) and is well-regarded. He has caught 38.7% of basestealers in his career. Teagarden is one of those players who makes catching look easy, which is why he’s considered the most valuable of these four players.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is below average, and will never throw out a lot of baserunners. One problem for Saltalamacchia is that he has not logged that many games behind the plate lately. He caught 101 Major League games and 35 games in the minors over the past two years. He’s never caught more than 93 games in a single season (back in 2005), yet we expect him to come in here and be an everyday catcher? Not a chance. Another “problem” for him is his size. The long-term record for catchers who are 6-4, 200 lbs is not very good.

24-year old Max Ramirez is almost certainly going to end up as a 1B/DH-type player, and a lot of the same things can be said for his defense as Salty above, though he is short and stout like a teapot, listed at 5-11, 175.

Hitting

We all want a slugging catcher, don’t we? After years of Varitek slugging 20 HR with 70 RBI, Red Sox fans are spoiled. The average AL catcher hit just .258/.322/.393 last season, and we may have to just get used to it. The Red Sox offense does not hang on the catcher’s production, as 2008 clearly showed. But let’s take at look at what these guys offer.

Laird has hit .255/.306/.383 in six Major League seasons, though he has only been the full-time guy the last two years. His road split has actually been slightly better than that, so the home stadium has not been a factor there; he may improve a little bit on that line, but he looks to be close to his ceiling at age 28.

Teagarden clearly has more power and more potential at the dish than Laird.

Salty is a big, switch-hitting catcher whose stick will play in the Majors. He has already posted a .261/.327/.399 line in limited time, and he’s not even 24 years old yet. He’s got a pretty good approach at the plate as well, so I understand the fascination with him. But put those numbers on a first base prospect, and suddenly a lot of that luster is gone, isn’t it?

Ramirez has really lit it up at every level he’s played at, and has compiled a .928 OPS over 5 minor league seasons. He’s a patient hitter that seems to do a lot right at the plate, though he could cut down on the strikeouts. The good news for him is that if he gets moved to another position, he can still have a good career in the bigs (though he’s a bit small for first base).

Summary

As you can see, it’s going to take a significant investment to land one of these guys, and even then we have to consider what happens if they don’t pan out. So if we’re going after one of these guys, it has to be Teagarden for me; go all in or don’t go at all. At least with him, if he doesn’t hit, he will still be a good catcher. We do still have George Kottaras, Dusty Brown and Mark Wagner as backups.

But given what it would cost to land Teagarden, I’m wondering whether we shouldn’t get an established veteran catcher to learn under the Captain instead. Someone who can already catch, and isn’t putrid at the plate. Asking a young guy to some in and handle our staff even part-time is not an easy order, especially under the media scrutiny in this town.

Other trade candidates

Contrary to popular journalistic opinion, Texas doesn’t own all the available catchers in the world. The Seattle Mariners have Kenji Johjima, Jeff Clement and Rob Johnson. The Diamondbacks have Chris Snyder, Miguel Montero. The Angels have Mike Napoli, Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson.

And if you haven’t heard yet, the Dodgers may make Russell Martin available. Now that’s intriguing, though he’s perceived to have many of the defensive drawbacks as many of these other guys. He doesn’t seem like he’ll remain a full-time catcher for too long.

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One Response to 2008 Offseason: The Texas catchers

  1. redsoxtalk says:

    For those who think that one of these guys is the answer for this year, here are the projected lines of each catcher for 2009. The lines for the minor league guys is extrapolated from their minor league batted ball data.

    Varitek: .242/.333/.397 with 13 HR and 55 RBI (465 PA)
    Laird: .258/.304/.395 with 11 HR and 52 RBI (500 PA)
    Saltalamacchia: .251/.319/.389 with 12 HR and 53 RBI (500 PA)
    Teagarden: .226/.284/.423
    Ramirez: .278/.341/.430

    I realize Ramirez’ numbers look interesting, but he’s poor defensively, barely 24 and has less than 100 PA above Double-A. He’s raked at every level, so his projection is very attractive.

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