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Musings on the Bench: Catcher

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There was a lot of frustration evident about our bench yesterday, and I can't disagree.

I'm not sure where we could find a better utility infielder than Alex Cora. Guys who play good defense, are above-average baserunners, and who have a career OPS+ well above his 76 get starting jobs. If you can find someone who's better, great, put him in the comments. Even with that, I don't think Cora was the target of any derision today.

Dougie. I've put a lot of thought into this, and obviously, Wake-Dougie is something we're stuck with until one or the other retires. It may be time for Wake to go after this season anyway.

The problem with finding a good backup catcher is just that...finding a good backup catcher. The offensive bar for starting catchers is appropriately low, assuming they can play better-than-adequate defense. Someone who blocks well, has a good throwing arm (which, at least for 36 years old, 'Belli definitely does) and hits even .250 consistently can often find a starting job. If they're worse than that but are extremely superior on defense (think Yadier Molina-Brian Schneider), they can also get a starting job.

My question then, is who do you get? I went to THT and got this list from its stats section. It's runs created per game for the top 50 unqualified (in terms of ABs, for the batting title) catchers in both the AL and NL. There are some names we can eliminate right away, because they are starters who have missed time due to injury: Mauer, Hernandez, Napoli, Zaun, Ausmus, Barajas, Molina, Laird. There's some more we can eliminate due to unavailability for whatever (either due to prospect status and/or team friendly contract situation) reason: Shoppach, Suzuki, Buck, Iannetta, Montero. There's also a few who probably wouldn't take backup positions unless it was the only thing available: Bard, Barrett, Ross. Many on the list could probably be ruled out due to a combination of being old and/or performing well outside career trends. I won't list all those names, but suffice to say, we're left with some rather unappetizing options. Here's the best:

  • Yorvit Torrealba: He has a great defensive pedigree, won't turn 30 years old until next summer, and has been at least a passable offensive option for most of his career. However, he probably prefers a situation like the one he's in now, where he backs up a struggling catching phenom, because he gets more PT that way. Unless 'Tek visibly slows down the resurgent year he's had in the second half, Torrealba would have to be satisified with 1-2 starts per week. I'm not sure he would be.
  • Adam Melhuse: Not really any great shakes on offense or defense, but he'd be an improvement over Dougie on offense, as most would. He'll be 36 years old next season...
  • Mike Redmond: He's a pretty good catcher whose batting average hasn't fallen below .256 the last few seasons. He doesn't have a ton of patience, and only doubles power, but again, it wouldn't take much to improve on Belli's performance at the plate. He will be 37 next season, and I really don't see him leaving the situation he has with the Twins. He seems happy there backing up Joe Mauer, and Ron Gardenhire, for better or worse, even gets him starts as the DH sometimes.
  • Javier Valentin: If he can get his numbers a little closer to last season, or (even better) 2005 (.883 OPS), he'd be a great option as a backup catcher. He hasn't been great throwing out baserunners this season, though he's been at least moderately successful in the past at doing so. Will be 32 later this year.
  • Ramon Castro: Has hit pretty well each of his 3 seasons with the Mets, and before this season (has caught no one), had CS% of 35, 27, and 36 going back to 2004. These numbers are fine. Turned 31 a few months ago. The problem with Castro is that there's really no reason for him to leave the Mets unless he can get more PT somewhere else. It's something we're unlikely to be able to grant him in 2008.
All this to say that while in 2008, it should be easy to find a replacement for Belli who is better than he is, it's really not easy to find a good backup catcher.

Btw, in case it wasn't obvious, this is written with 2008 in mind. Barring injury, we all know we're stuck with Dougie until at least the end of the season.