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AARP Catchers Available

Believe it or not, pitchers and catchers report in about one month. It still seems like yesterday, metaphorically speaking, that Eric Hinske flailed at a Brad Lidge slider, officially ending the 2008 season. And yet here we are, three months later, with the offseason in full bloom. Though a fair share of players have inked deals with new teams or garnered new uniforms via a trade, three players who would normally report to camp in the middle of February are still available.

And all three are old!

Jason Varitek and Paul Lo Duca are each 37 years old, and Ivan Rodriguez is one year their senior. All three are at different stages in their respective careers, but given the importance of the position, could at least be expected to serve backup duty, right? Varitek and Pudge could probably still hold down fort as starters while Lo Duca would need to play for a team like the Nationals to earn starting time.

Tek, the Red Sox captain, is coming off of a terribly disappointing 2008 season. With a wOBA just south of .300, Varitek saw his win value drop from +3.0 to +1.3. Prior to that, his win values were up and down as well. Over the last four years: +4.3, +1.2, +3.0, +1.3. Granted, quantifying the defensive prowess of catchers is an extremely difficult task, and these measures are excluding that facet of the game. If Varitek’s leadership, defense, and ability to handle the pitching staff is worth +5 runs in each of these seasons, he still comes strikingly close to a league average player in 2008.

Next year, he projects to -6 runs offensively. With a slight decline in his defense and intangibles to +3 runs, and similar adjustment values for position and replacement level, Varitek looks like a +2.3 win player. At $4.5 mil/win, 2.3 wins commands a fair market value of $10.4 mil. If he declines to +1.8 wins in 2010, assuming he plays that long, then a 2-yr deal properly valuing his contributions would pay him $19.3 mil. Bump that up to $20 mil and it is still in the realm of the understandable.

Pudge Rodriguez saw a slight improvement in his numbers from 2007, as his .317 wOBA helped produce a +1.6 win season. Over the last four seasons, all of which were spent with the Tigers: +2.1, +2.6, +1.3, +1.6. Prior to joining the Tigers, Pudge put up two consecutive +5 win seasons. Suffice it to say, he simply is not that type of player anymore. He still has value, though, but it would not surprise me in the least if he is forced to take a minor league deal. Despite a projection of +1.75 wins (FMV of $7.9 mil), Rodriguez could also fall into the Kenny Lofton category of players with value seemingly forced to retire.

Paul Lo Duca is a different story altogether. Even though he produced +2.3 wins in 2005 and +3.4 wins in 2006, his best days are very far behind him. In fact, his average or slightly below average days are a pretty decent hike behind him. In 67 games last season, Paul posted a .287 wOBA for the Marlins and Nationals. All told, he was the definition of replacement level, literally worth 0 wins above replacement. If he signs with a team and receives similar playing time to last season, Lo Duca projects to be worth +0.1 wins, still virtually replacement level.

The Astros are reportedly interested in signing Lo Duca to a minor league contract. Anything above $600K would greatly overpay him, but signing him to a deal like that would carry with it little risk. Still, kind of odd that Lo Duca is the only one of these three catchers being tossed around the rumor mill.