To catch a catcher


Because right now, the state of the 2010 team is a little too depressing to think about, lets talk a bit more in depth about 2011, the season when the Red Sox are bound to remain entirely healthy throughout the year.

Catcher has got to be the hardest position on a team to effectively fill.  They, by definition, take the most physical abuse of any player on the field.  Despite the gear they're wearing, contantly having balls fouled off you, getting smacked in the head by player's backswings, and trying to block the plate from runners sliding in cleats-first takes a special kind of person.  When this is combined with the ridiculous amount of wear that comes from just having to crouch most of the time they're playing the game, catching is a rough position.

Partly because of this, it's nearly impossible to find a catcher who's actually good at what he does (calling, blocking, throwing, oh, and catching) and is more than an offensive black hole.

The Red Sox have been blessed currently with one of the best offensive catchers in the game- a hitter who, despite the abuse he takes at the plate, is a genuine middle-of-the-order switch hitter with a game-changing bat.  After this year, however, he can hit free agency and it's time for the Red Sox to be thinking about what they will do to fill the position, either by trade, free agency, of promoting one of their multitude of catchers in the minors.  So lets look at just a few of the options.  And please, feel free to add any other options that occur to you down below.

First of all, and most obvious is re-sign Victor Martinez.  He has said that he wants to stay with the Red Sox (and by all accounts just seems to be the type of guy that wants to continue on with what he's been doing and not have any giant life changes like going to a new city).  The Red Sox would certainly love to keep him around.  So then, the question lies with the contract he would require- he is, hands down, the best catcher on the market this year, and is probably looking for a multi-year contract for significant money.  This would be fine, if the Red Sox feel that he will actually be an effective catcher throughout the life of the contract, but if not, he shouldn't be paid like he is- while is bat is outstanding for a catcher, it is less impressive for a designated hitter.  Reasonably, he hasn't been a catcher incredibly long and I personally haven't seen signs of him wearing down (although I don't have all the inside information, so I can't make that decision).  It would be interesting to see if he would be amenable to a contract for a certain amount over a couple of years and then perhaps a varying salary for the next couple of years depending on amount of games caught (say for 2013, a low base pay with big escalators for games caught).  Of course, then the other thing to take into consideration is draft pick compensation- as a type A free agent, if the Red Sox let him walk, they can gain two draft picks and probably bring is someone for significantly less money.

I'll just briefly mention the minors.  The Red Sox have a plethora of catching prospects in the minors- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Mark Wagner, Luis Exposito, Tim Federowicz, Ryan Lavarnaway, and recent international signing Adalberto Ibarra.  None of them, however, are ready for the majors.  Salty has struggled in his showings in the majors, and is a project in the minors for now, Wagner had his progress hampered by an injury for much of the year, Ibarra has yet to even be assigned to a team, so none of us know if he can even catch.  One or two of these guys may contribute in the future, although none of them are can't-miss prospects.  Saltalamacchia is the most likely to contribute next year, but the Sox would probably like to see quite a bit more of him before committing to him as the primary catcher for 2011.

As far as free agency, outside of Martinez, the class is weak.  I see the most promising on the list as John Buck of the Blue Jays.  He is a good defensive catcher- throwing out 37% of base-stealers this year, and provides some offensive ability.  He will barely ever get on base, and has walked only 3.3% of the time this year, but has quite a bit of power, providing a strong wOBA this year of .346 at the weak position with 14 home runs.  It is worth noting, also, that his increase in power and inability to take a walk line up perfectly with the Blue Jays team he is on- with a change in coaching, he may be able to flash a little more plate discipline, but he will never be a big on-base, low strikeout guy.  He is probably on course for an upgrade over his 2010 salary of $2 million, but could still be had for significantly less money and years than Victor Martinez.  Apart from him, there are really no free agents worth mentioning- all either have never been good or are way past their prime.

There might a a couple of trade possibilities.  The Pirates currently have both Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, both of whom are offensively unexceptional but not Cashian in their offensive abilities.  Doumit has made Red Sox catchers look like the best throwers in the business, but Snyder has had back issues.  Both are signed for similar amounts of money through 2011 with club options after that.  They're also both 29.  It's actually a little eerie to me how much of a wash it is between these two catchers.  Snyder, while not a great option, would at least cost pretty much nothing in prospects to acquire with the Pirates plethora of catchers too expensive for their team.  It might make a kind of sense to get one of them cheap if the Sox think that Saltalamacchia or one of the other guys in the minors would be able to step it up partway through the year.  Neither strikes me as a better idea than Buck or Martinez.

Another name that makes a lot of sense and has been bandied around is Chris Iannetta, who is both probably available in trade and is a native son, from Rhode Island.  He's a streaky hitter who won't hit for high average, but knows how to walk very well with a very good eye, and a good amount of power when he actually hits the ball.  Probably the best offensive option outside of Martinez.  He seems generally considered solid defensively, and seems able to throw out a good number of base-stealers when he is playing regularly.  Best of all, he is signed cheaply through 2012, with a club option for 2013.  Because he's a good option, he could well cost quite a bit in prospects.

Personally, I still see Martinez as by far the best option- he has a game changing bat and has looked just fine defensively of late.  Obviously, if something can't be worked out with him they'll have to look elsewhere.  After him, I see Iannetta as by far the best option- although he has a prospect cost, he looks to provide a lot of value for his price, and I feel that the prospect cost would be offset to a degree by the draft picks they'd receive from Martinez.  Buck is option 3 for me.  The others I think are last resorts who I hope to not see with the Sox.

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