November 19, 2011
For the second time in a week the Twins moved quickly to fill a hole with a low-cost free agent, signing Ryan Doumit to a one-year, $3 million contract after previously signing Jamey Carroll to a two-year, $6.75 million deal. Doumit, like Carroll, was a player I recommended targeting in my position-by-position breakdown of inexpensive, realistic free agent options and $3 million is an absolute bargain for the flawed but very useful 30-year-old.
Doumit has been a catcher for most of his career, making 403 starts and logging 3,513 innings behind the plate during seven seasons with the Pirates, but his defense has always been a weakness. His arm is decent enough, as Doumit threw out 24 percent of steal attempts this year and 25 percent for his career, but his passed ball and wild pitch totals aren't pretty and a study by Mike Fast of Baseball Prospectus showed Doumit as MLB's worst at framing pitches.
Ideally he'd see minimal action behind the plate, but if Joe Mauer spends time on the disabled list again and his backup is forced into an extended role Doumit will allow the Twins to sacrifice defense for offense with a better alternative than Drew Butera. And if Mauer can stay mostly healthy the Twins can keep Butera in a limited backup role and plug Doumit into the lineup as a corner outfielder, first baseman, and designated hitter.
Doumit isn't going to be a standout defender away from catcher, but he's logged 489 innings in right field and 251 innings at first base and should be passable at worst in either spot. And his bat is strong enough to be an asset anywhere, as Doumit is a switch-hitter with a career .271/.334/.442 line and batted .303/.353/.477 this year. For comparison, Michael Cuddyer is a career .272/.343/.451 hitter and batted .284/.346/.459 this year.
Doumit's overall numbers and Cuddyer's overall numbers are almost identical, but within that are very different hitters. Cuddyer destroys left-handers and is mediocre versus right-handers, while Doumit is very good against righties and mediocre off lefties. That means Doumit doesn't fit quite as well in a Twins lineup heavy on lefty bats, but even in a different form production is still production and a poor man's Cuddyer who can also play catcher is a great fit for $3 million.
Along with shaky catching his injury history is another reason Doumit was available so cheaply after the Pirates declined his $7.25 million option. He broke his ankle this year, broke his wrist in 2009, and has had concussions. However, the fractured ankle came when a runner plowed into him at the plate and the concussions stemmed from foul tips to the mask, so transitioning away from catching regularly should significantly increase Doumit's odds of staying healthy.
And if Doumit can stay healthy he's capable of posting some very nice numbers. He's been an above-average hitter in four of the past five seasons, batting .280/.337/.454 during that time while averaging 20 homers and 37 doubles per 500 at-bats. He's a free-swinger, drawing just 43 walks per 600 plate appearances over that four-year span, but Doumit also leans into quite a few pitches to boost his on-base percentage and doesn't strike out much.
Doumit is far from a perfect player, but he hits well enough to replace Cuddyer or Jason Kubel if they go elsewhere as free agents, can also fill in at first base if Justin Morneau's concussion symptoms persist, has enough catching experience to be far better than Butera if needed to replace Mauer behind the plate, and brings some much-needed versatility to a roster filled with health questions. For a modest one-year commitment that's some good shopping on a budget.