Kelly Shoppach, then of the Tampa Bay Rays, looks on in the dugout against the Texas Rangers during Game One of the American League Division Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
According to Jerry Crasnick, the Red Sox will announce the signing of Kelly Shoppach later today. Shoppach, who would be in his second stint with Boston, hit just .185/.285/.340 with the Tampa Bay Rays the last two years.
As a low-average, walks-oriented catcher with occasional pop, this poor performance in Tampa Bay shouldn't be a huge surprise. Tropicana is not friendly to either righties or lefties, and it is death for righties like Shoppach in terms of doubles and homers. Fenway is much better to right-handed hitters in terms of power, as it's the most double-friendly park in the majors, so Shoppach should rebound somewhat even if nothing changes in terms of his approach.
The major issue with Shoppach is that he strikes out a ton. When Shoppach signed with the Rays two years ago, a swing full of holes was his primary problem. After striking out 34 percent of the time while with the Rays, it's clear that trend hasn't slowed in any meaningful way. Defensively, he's likely about average -- last year he set a career-high for throwing runners out, at 41 percent, but that might not have been entirely his doing, as former Rays' blogger and current Baseball Prospectus author R.J. Anderson explained:
When the Rays acquired Shoppach from the Indians in late 2009, he carried an all-bat, no-glove reputation. Two seasons later, some regard Shoppach as a defensive wonder. What changed? Better coaching, more practice, or a combination thereof? Neither. Shoppach benefitted from being Shields's personal catcher for most of the season, and by being on the same team as John Jaso and Robinson Chirinos. Shields owns a brilliant pickoff move (nailing 12 runners by himself this season) that shuts down the running game.
The pickoffs themselves aren't fueling Shoppach, but runners keeping it closer to first for fear of being caught by Shields does make Shoppach's job that much easier.
The Red Sox are getting a new backup catcher who can throw out some runners, hit for a bit of power, and will strike out often. Essentially, Boston is getting Jason Varitek, but eight years younger, and with an arm that still works behind the plate.
This likely means it's the end for the 40-year-old Jason Varitek in Boston. While he was no longer much help throwing out runners, and platoon splits limited his effectiveness at the plate, he did have a productive and lengthy career for the Red Sox. Remember him for the version that helped the Red Sox win a pair of World Series titles, not the later iteration that might have struggled to throw out some of our readers during attempts to steal second. (Okay, the authors, too.)
This also means Ryan Lavarnway might be spending the 2012 season in Pawtucket, continuing to work on his defense. There is no huge rush for Lavarnway to join the major league club immediately, given Jarrod Saltalamacchia was tendered a contract and David Ortiz accepted arbitration to be the team's designated hitter. Shoppach is also just expendable enough that Lavarnway can push him aside in the future, if his progress in Triple-A merits this course of action.