FanPost

What now at catcher?


With Victor Martinez putting on a new uniform the major question of the offseason (for now anyway) becomes, what do the Red Sox do to fill the hole at catcher?

We have three different options, we can replenish from within, sign a free agent or make a trade.

First a quick look at what we have.

We've got former super-prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia, acquired this season.  He was a major piece in one of the several Mark Texiera deals a few years ago and was regarded as a high ceiling offensive catcher.  I don't know a lot about his defensive abilities but this handy link from Beyond the Box Score ranked him as the 45th best catcher this year in limited time (for reference Victor was near the bottom ranked 114th).  He still has some upside but has been reduced from super-prospect to Jeremy Hermida -esque project. There isn't much to say about him, he hasn't succeeded in the majors.

We have several prospect level catchers in our farm system, namely Ryan Lavarnway, Luis Exposito and Adalberto Ibarra but none of them are major league ready.  

We also "have" Jason Varitek, the captain who could probably be coaxed to come back in a limited role again if needed.

 

Now a look at what is available via free agency.  With John Buck and Martinez gone the group is rather limited.  Names that jump off the list are Miguel Olivo, Rod Barajas and Yorvit Torrealba.

Miguel Olivo combines power with little patience at the plate.  His career OBP is in the .280s while his SLG is .427.  He doesn't fit the mold of a Red Sox player, one who excels at taking the walk.  Behind the plate Beyond the Box Score rated him as the 25th best defensive catcher in the league last year, he was average at most things and excelled at throwing out runners.  

Rod Barajas's bat is slightly worse than Olivo's.  His career OBP is nearly identical and his SLG is .412 and is also 3 years older than Olivo.  He doesn't walk a lot, but he also doesn't strike out as much as Olivo, who routinely posts 100 K seasons.  Behind the plate Barajas was rated as the 7th best catcher to pop a squat last season, limited his throwing errors and excelling at blocking as he was near the top of the passed ball and wild pitch category.  

Yorvit Torrealba is on the other side of the batting spectrum, he doesn't have the power of an Olivo or Barajas but makes up with it with patience at the plate, posting an OBP higher than .340 each of the last two seasons while his career SLG is .388.  Defensively he is rated as the 6th best catcher last season, posting positive values in all categories.

None of these guys are the franchise sort of catcher that we can hang our hat on for a long period of time, ideally we would sign them to 1 year deals, 2 at most and hope that one of the prospects catches on or as a backup Salty begins to excel at the major league level.

The final option to replace Victor would be through the trade market. Popular names here include Chris Iannetta, Russell Martin and Mike Napoli. Russell has been mentioned as a potential non-tender, making him a free agent, I'll include him here for now since he is currently under contract.

Let's start with Iannetta, he is intriguing and probably the trade target with the highest ceiling.  I use his 2008 professional season to show his potential where he posted a .895 OPS, the mark most like his minor league numbers.  His BABIP does a good job of explaining his regression the last two years wherein he became a platoon player for the Rockies.  He has the upside of a Victor Martinez at the plate if given the time for things to normalize.  On the other hand, his upside behind the plate is much like that of, well, Victor Martinez.  Beyond the Box Score rated him as the 112th best catcher last year, just above Victor, putting up slightly below average marks in every category.  He is signed cheap, at $3.35 mil a year through 2012 with a $250k club option I'm not sure I get.  Being 28 next season he is also a guy we could plan on having around for 4-5-6 years if he excelled.  The issue is cost, with Rockies losing out on Victor and trading away Olivo he is currently their best option at catcher, and if I know how to find BABIP on fangraphs, I presume they can as well.  He wouldn't be cheap but would solidify the position for a few years.

Next up is Russell Martin.  Russell's regression the last few years may make him a non-tender candidate off the Dodgers.  If that is true, the price to pry him away could be pretty cheap to avoid him hitting the market.  He made $5.5 mil this year with two more years of arbitration ahead of him.  His upside is 2007 season, where he posted a 5.8 WAR season with a .843 OPS.  His .365 career OBP is impressive for a catcher but his power has taken a downturn in recent years, his ISO dropping from .176 to .085.  Behind the plate he worked out to exactly middle of the pack at #58, excelling at throwing out base runners but at the same time having some issues with throwing errors.  

Finally we have Mike Napoli.  The Sox claimed him off waivers this season only to have him pulled back, we know the interest is there. He combines mediocre patience at the plate (career .350s OBP) with good power (.234 ISO).  He's consistently been a 2-3 WAR player for the Angels, this year though saw him post his most games played and also some of his lowest career numbers, though also coupled with a slightly low BABIP.  Napoli is also on the lower end of the catching spectrum, placing 113th right between Victor and Iannetta.  

But what to do?  The FA options aren't all that enticing, Torrealba is probably the best bet, providing patience at the plate with solid defense according to whatever metrics they can find.  Any one of the FAs would be a short term solution, they all carry the burden of age with them as well as being either poor defensively or poor offensively.  They could however provide us with a cheap bridge from PLAYER A to one of our several prospects, most likely Lavarnway since his batting potential far outweighs any potential defensive deficiencies.  

What we currently have is the riskiest of propositions.  Salty is majorly unproven at a ML level, he can crush the minors all he wants but it hasn't translated to the level that made him the crown jewel of the Tex trade.  Backing him up with Varitek in a platoon would be easier to handle but the idea of having an unknown former prospect and a very aged former starter as options 1 A and 1 B gives me shivers of the Kevin Cash type.  

The trade market seems like the best bet.  All three of these options are buy low candidates.  Martin coming off of a couple less impressive years, Napoli posting a career low OBP and Iannetta with his BABIP fluctuation.  In terms of highest upside we have Iannetta who could perfectly replace Victor if he met his potential.  Though I think that Martin would be the cheapest to acquire if the team is thinking of cutting him loose altogether.  Napoli is a good mix of solid performance with a price somewhere between Iannetta and Martin.

If I were Theo I would go with Russell Martin.  I think he would be the cheapest to acquire out of the three trade options presented and certainly provides plenty of offensive upside.  His decline and loss of power is worrisome.  But at the same time he makes up for it with decent ability behind the plate, something we haven't had in a while.  He could form a decent platoon with Salty as well, as Salty has traditionally hit Right handed pitching well while Martin has hit Lefties better over his career. He also has experience handling a very good pitching staff between Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Juroda.  Summing up the imperfect solution is also that Martin suffered a hip injury that ended his season early.  

Next year, no solution will be as good as Victor, plain and simple, however there is plenty we can do to alleviate the loss.  The return of Pedrioa, Youkilis and Ellsbury should also not be overlooked in terms of replacing offense lost.  

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