November 10, 2011

Offseason shopping on a budget: Catchers

Joe Mauer's days as a full-time catcher may be over and current backup Drew Butera is one of the worst hitters in the history of baseball, which means the Twins should be in the market for help behind the plate this winter. Below are 15 free agents and possible trade targets who realistically figure to be on their catching radar along with my thoughts about how much sense it would make for the Twins to pursue each of them.

Ryan Doumit: His defense grades out horribly in every category behind the plate, but Doumit has plenty of catching experience in addition to playing right field and first base. His bat is the real asset, with a .271/.334/.442 career line and .303/.353/.477 mark this year. By comparison Michael Cuddyer has a .272/.343/.451 career line and .284/.346/.469 mark this year. Doumit has flaws, but a younger, switch-hitting poor man's Cuddyer who can catch is plenty useful.

Ryan Hanigan: With top prospect Devin Mesoraco looking MLB-ready the Reds may be willing to deal Hanigan, who's been stuck in a backup role. Hanigan is 31 years old with minimal pop, but among all catchers over the past five years his .371 on-base percentage trails only Mauer at .405. He's also hit .275 with more walks (116) than strikeouts (95) while throwing out 36 percent of steal attempts and is signed for just $1.2 million in 2012 and $2.1 million in 2013.

Ramon Hernandez: Hernandez is a free agent and coming off one of his best years at age 35, hitting .282/.341/.446 in 91 games for the Reds. He's a career .266/.330/.419 hitter, topping a .700 OPS in eight of the past nine years, and gunned down 36 percent of steal attempts since 2009. He hasn't played 100 games since 2008, but as a right-handed hitter presumably open to a one-year deal and a part-time role Hernandez would be a good fit for the Twins.

Chris Iannetta: Iannetta hasn't lived up to the promise he showed in 2008, falling out of favor in Colorado at age 28, yet despite a .235 career batting average his .788 OPS is ninth among active catchers. Coors Field inflates offense and away from home he's hit just .208/.338/.369, but that's still above average for catchers and the Coors effect tends to hurt Rockies hitters on the road. Signed for two more seasons and a total of $8.5 million, he'd be an affordable risk.

Chris Snyder: Snyder has long been a starting-caliber catcher, but missed most of this season following back surgery before the Pirates declined his $6.75 million option for 2012. Obviously back problems are bad news for catchers, but Snyder is still reasonably young at 31 and offers 15-homer power along with good plate discipline and a solid arm. His batting average won't be pretty, but if healthy Snyder can be an above-average hitter for the position.

Jesus Flores: Thanks to the Twins trading them Wilson Ramos the Nationals are set behind the plate, so they'll shop Flores now that he's healthy after missing two years with shoulder problems. He's a big question mark, but Flores is still just 27 years old, showed promise before the injury, and has played well in winter ball. If the Twins want a reliable veteran backup he's not the answer, but if they're looking for a younger catcher with some upside he's flier worthy.

Yorvit Torrealba: Texas gave Torrealba a two-year deal to be a starter and he filled that role for much of this season, but Mike Napoli's emergence benched him for the playoffs and could make him available via trade. Torrealba has never had a huge season, but he's topped a .700 OPS in three straight years with a .260/.318/.390 career line that's average for catchers. As a right-handed hitter and solid defender he'd be worth the one-year, $3.25 million commitment.

Kelly Shoppach: When pressed into extended duty Shoppach has struggled to hit above .200, but if limited to a platoon role versus left-handed pitching he's capable of being very effective. Shoppach has been useless against righties during the past three seasons, hitting just .156, but he's hit .262/.372/.488 off lefties. With the Rays declining his $3.2 million option the Twins would do well to pair Shoppach with Mauer.

Ramon Castro: An ideal backup/platoon partner for Mauer if not for the fact that he's 35 years old and missed the second half with a fractured right hand. Castro has never had a chance to start regularly, but he's been a top backup for a decade and hit .261/.336/.552 versus lefties over the past three seasons. If healthy he'd be a fine one-year, $1 million investment, but the age/injury combination is scary and Castro would be overmatched if pushed into a bigger role.

Miguel Olivo: Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has mentioned Olivo a few times to make me think the 33-year-old free agent is on the Twins' radar. Olivo has 20-homer power, but he's also MLB's most undisciplined hitter, posting a putrid .279 career on-base percentage. That includes this year's 140/20 K/BB ratio and .254 OBP, which prior to 2011 was the lowest by a qualified hitter since 1989. And he's led the league in passed balls four times in six years.

Rod Barajas: Barajas is similar to Olivo in that he's a veteran with 20-homer pop whose awful on-base skills drag his value down. He had 16 homers in 98 games for the Dodgers, but also hit just .230 with a .287 on-base percentage. Barajas played this season on a one-year, $3.25 million contract and a similar deal wouldn't be the worst investment for the Twins, but at age 36 and with a .231/.275/.424 line over the past three seasons they can do better.

Ivan Rodriguez: He's one of the greatest catchers of all time and can still shut down a running game, but Rodriguez hasn't cracked a .300 on-base percentage or .700 OPS since 2008 and is so old that the Twins drafted his son, high school outfielder Dereck Rodriguez, with this year's sixth-round pick. Combined over the past three seasons Rodriguez has hit .252/.286/.360 for a .646 OPS that ranks sixth-worst among all players with at least 1,000 plate appearances.

Jason Varitek: He has more pop left in his bat than Rodriguez, but that isn't saying much and Varitek has become a major defensive liability at age 39. He's hit .216/.306/.414 over the past three seasons, which is around average for a catcher if it didn't come with a throw-out rate of 15 percent and age-related durability issues. For some teams Varitek, like Rodriguez, wouldn't be the worst choice as a cheap one-year backup, but he's not what the Twins should look for.

Jorge Posada: One of the most underrated players of his generation, but unfortunately at this stage of his career Posada is more designated hitter than catcher/designated hitter. He made zero starts behind the plate in 2011, which along with a late-career inability to hit left-handed pitching makes Posada a poor fit for the Twins, but it's worth noting that he hit .269/.348/.466 versus right-handers this season.

A.J. Pierzynski: It's tough to imagine the Twins being interested in a reunion with Pierzynski, but he's under contract for $6 million in 2012 and figures to be available as the White Sox turn to Tyler Flowers behind the plate. At age 34 he struggles to throw out runners and has never hit left-handed pitching particularly well, but Pierzynski remains durable and productive versus right-handers. Under different circumstances he might be a fit, but in reality don't count on it.

  • stedman15

    With Wilson Ramos’s unfortunate kidnapping, Flores may be off the market.

  • Frank

    Mike Redmond as naked backstop?

  • Greg

    Max Ramirez? Was a good hitter. Did the injury ruin him?

  • mike wants wins

    If Christansen is mentioning someone, then that is what the Twins are thinking. He’s like their PR machiine, isn’t he?

  • The Twin

    If Christansen is mentioning someone, then that is what the Twins are thinking. He’s like their PR machiine, isn’t he?

    LaVelle also mentioned Olivo in his live chat yesterday:

    “La Velle: I think the Twins are committed to finding a catcher who can hit a little bit. Some players, late in the season. hoped the Twins traded for Miguel Olivo. Don’t know where they came up with him but I haven’t forgotten it.

  • Mell

    Hannigan, Doumit, Flores and Olivo in that order.

  • Mike

    This team will have touble scoring runs next year so Doumit would be the best fit imo. He switch hits and his production is very close to what Cuddy has done. If he only has to catch 60 games he’d likely stay healthier. Rotate him in at first, dh and catch with Mauer and that really improves what we have now. They really need to add some guys that can drive in runs or it will be another really long season.

  • Josh

    Hanigan & Doumit are my top choices, but Shoppach is worth taking a look to get someone to platoon against LH pitching. Unfortunately, Our Beloved Manager doesn’t seem to understand platoon splits, so he’s less of an asset.

    (I will say, with Bill Smith being ejected Gardy should be finding the seat a little warmer this season. If the team underperforms and younger players don’t show any development at the MLB level I think the manager will start taking some heat, since the media always needs a target and Terry Ryan will be bulletproof for at least one season)

  • LaBombo

    “Shoppach has been useless against righties during the past three seasons, hitting just .156, but he’s hit .262/.372/.488 off lefties.”

    Aaron, what on earth could a catcher with a platoon split that pairs well with Mauer’s have to do with a Twins team that is still managed by Ron Gardenhire?

    If you want to give GardenGnome a catcher with a useful statistical trend, find one who’s batted .262/.372/.488 over the last three seasons in day games after night games.

  • The Twin

    I hope they sign Doumit. I want to be able to say “Doumit” every time he makes an out.

  • Test

    Flores, Ianetta, or Hannigan behind the plate.

    Budget (probably not) permitting, also add Doumit as the utility/DH/Ron “I don’t know it’s not 1980″ Gardenhire’s 3rd catcher/Backup catcher when Mauer is either on the DL or playing first because Morneau is on the DL (approx. 100-110 games total).

  • The Twin

    Is Flores even a possibility at this point?

  • Mike

    The problem with trading for a guy is what do we have to trade?

  • jama

    I think this depends on what the Twins see this catchers role being. Are they expecting him to catch 80 games or 40 games? Are they planning on using him in other positions such as 1B and DH? Ianetta’s $4 million/season seems a bit rich for a backup that would play 40 games, but if he’s going to play in 80 games it seems a little more reasonable. With a lowered payroll I’d prefer a veteran free agent that doesn’t cost prospects or more than a couple million on a one or two year deal.

  • Tom

    Varitek was drafted by the Twins in ’93 but turned them down and went back to Georgia Tech for his senior year, and won a CWS.

  • jama

    Barajas signed a reported 1 year $4 million deal. If that sets the market I’d think the Twins wouldn’t have to spend that much on a part-time player.

  • http://fieldoftwins.blogspot.com/ Shane

    Barajas signed with the Pirates.

  • jfs

    I would add a catcher to the roster only after non-tenders are known in early December. Don’t trade for a catcher (someone correctly stated above that the Twins don’t have much to trade anyway). The focus this off-season should be the middle infield and beefing up the pitching staff.

  • LaBombo

    “I think this depends on what the Twins see this catchers role being”.

    Somewhat, but maybe more than that the shopping list should depend on what the Twins see The Twins’ role being in 2012 and even 2013.

    With a reduced 2012 payroll that could easily turn into a slashed payroll with a poor first 2 months, it seems to me that the Twins are saying they plan on a rebuilding season next year. And that could easily lead to another rebuild-y sort of year in ’13, given the state of the minors and of the health, depth, and pitching issues on the major league roster.

    If 2012 (and maybe 2013) ends up as mostly a rebuilding effort, of what real use is a mid-30′s backup catcher next year? Why not just run Drew “Buck Nothin’ Fan Club” Butera out there for 40 or even 80 games? Or for that matter, his dad Sal, who’s not even 60 yet.

    Even in a rainbows and unicorns future where M&M and Span not only play 150+ games each, but also put up rate stats similar to their career years, what are the odds this team is a contender next year, especially with $15 million less to spend on talent?

  • dave

    Obviously everything is in flux with the kidnapping of Ramos. We all pray that he is returned safely. I now live in the DC area and I know over the years that the Nats have been very high on Flores.

  • jfs

    Any thoughts on the ETA for Chris Herrmann at the MLB level? I see that he has a 1.009 OPS in the Arizona Fall League.

  • D-Luxxx

    That’s a lot of rainbows and unicorns there LaBombo. Especially considering that Mauer has never played in 150 games in a season. Catchers don’t play in that many games. Of course if you’ve been hanging at the Strib website, then you’d never know that anyway…

  • Shane

    Chris Herrmann should be up no later than September 2012. If he was a RH bat, he would be in contention to start with the team this year out of spring training, I think. He also can play the corner OF position pretty well.

  • Rieux

    And Doumit it is.