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Crop of Catchers

With the playoffs in full swing and approximately just two weeks of baseball remaining, I thought it would be prudent to take a look at the free agent class at each position. After all, these are the players our teams will be fighting for in trying to acquire their services for, at the very least, the 2009 season. For now, our target will be the free agent class of catchers, which, to put it kindly, might bring some intangibles and unmeasurable defensive value to the table in order to counteract their putrid offense. One, just one of the fifteen free agents to be listed below, had a positive WPA/LI this season, and it was barely above average, meaning that the best hitter below was a league average producer. First, the “young guns” of this year’s free agent crop of catchers:

Name               Age        G            Slash        WPA/LI
Miguel Olivo        30       84   .255/.278/.444         -0.20
Josh Bard           31       57   .202/.279/.270         -1.09
Dave Ross           32       60   .225/.369/.352         -0.10
Michael Barrett     32       30   .202/.274/.298         -0.60

Now, Olivo has a 2.7 million dollar mutual option for next season, and he would be a good investment as he has always shown a knack for power in a more elevated backup role. He probably should not be a starting catcher, but he would perform well in a catcher platoon situation, or as a backup making more than 40 starts a season. Bard had an extremely disappointing season; maybe he cannot get over his inability to catch a knuckleball. Ross is a classic three true outcomes player, almost like Branyan-lite, and he was the least bad of this group. And Barrett, despite injuries, posted numbers Michael Bourn would be proud of in his 30 games of action.

Name               Age        G            Slash        WPA/LI
Rod Barajas         33      104   .249/.294/.410         -0.02
Johnny Estrada      33       23   .170/.200/.170         -0.56
Toby Hall           33       41   .260/.304/.331         -0.31
Javier Valentin     33       94   .256/.326/.411          0.06
Jason LaRue         35       61   .213/.296/.348         -0.33

How is Rod Barajas only 33 years old? Based on his play last season with the Phillies I would have guessed 37 or 38. On top of his ability to prevent himself from aging, he actually played quite well this year in extended duty with the Blue Jays, actually leading them in OPS at one point halfway through the season. He has a mutual option on his contract for next season that will likely be exercised. Estrada’s career has fallen fast but I am sure some team will take a low-risk flyer on him. Hall, like Barajas, has an option that will likely be exercised. Valentin falls into the aforementioned Miguel Olivo category, of a catcher with power that will do well in duty that falls between the roles of backup and starter. LaRue did not have a terrible year, and for a backup with leadership ability–I’m assuming, at least–he should be able to play until he is at least 37.

Name               Age        G            Slash        WPA/LI
Jason Varitek       37      131   .220/.313/.359         -1.55
Ivan Rodriguez      37      115   .276/.319/.394         -1.11
Paul Lo Duca        37       67   .243/.321/.295         -0.69
Henry Blanco        37       58   .292/.325/.392         -0.27
Paul Bako           37       99   .217/.299/.328         -1.35
Brad Ausmus         40       81   .218/.303/.296         -1.18

Blanco has a mutual option on his contract, and based on his lack of offensive suckitude this year, as well as his reputation of being defensively stellar, he will have a job next season. The other five, in a Seidman-run MLB, would be out of work. I know Varitek is “the captain,” but the captain cannot hit anymore, and sometimes, just sometimes, winning is better than nostalgia or loyalty in the sport of baseball. Pudge is a surefire hall of fame catcher, but he is well past his prime, not so great defensively, and below average offensively. However, I am sure he will be able to provide “veteran presence” to a young team somewhere in 2009.

Lo Duca shouldn’t have had a job this season, let alone next season, so enough said right there. Bako and Ausmus could be okay in very limited backup duty, but at that point, why even pay someone who may be okay in a situation when there likely are better options in the farm system? If I were GM of a team, I would go for Blanco, Valentin, Ross, and Olivo out of this group, and that is pretty much it. As a group, they were awful offensively, with one-third of the players posting a higher OBP than SLG, and adding up to enough lost wins below average that, if reversed, might have even gotten the Marlins or Astros into the post-season.

Thanks to Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors for supplying the free agent lists!