This kicks off a position-by-position series that will look at the upcoming free agents. Because there are fans of 26 teams out there already thinking about next year and how their team can get better, that’s why.
Not a single free agent catcher qualified for the batting title. Among those that managed 200 PAs, though, Hernandez led the crew in both batting average and wOBA. He actually managed offense that was 11% better than the league average, which is like wow for a catcher. The position managed a .245/.313/.389 line, and Hernandez had a .282/.341/.446 line. That would make him the offensive class of the free agent class. And by Matt Klaasen’s most recent catcher defense rankings, he graded out as top-tier as well. So why might the Reds let him go? Well they have Ryan Hanigan in hand and Devin Mesoraco on the way, so they don’t need to spend that money. Also, Hernandez is 36 years old, has averaged 337 PAs over the past three years, and is as likely to be below-average with the bat as he is to be above-average (or more likely below, given he’s another year older). Even though his defense is at least decent and the Dodgers are a possibility, the best fit for him might be an American league team that can shuttle him between catcher and DH to keep him fresh. Could he return to Baltimore? Replace free-agent-to-be Josh Bard in Seattle? The Mariners are looking for offense at any position they can get it.
Yes, even with all his faults, Jorge Posada is one of the most eligible bachelors in the sixth grade dance that is the pool of catcher free agents. He’s forty years old, and may not even be a catcher any more. But he managed an 89 wRC+ this past year, even despite a .262 BABIP, and has said he wants to catch next year. He’s still walking at a double-digit rate and has above-average power, too. Given the state of his defense, he’s probably not a fit for a National League team, which shrinks the set of possible suitors drastically. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a great fit for him. Could he take over the backup role in Boston for fellow free agent (and likely retiree) Jason Varitek in Boston? Ryan Lavarnway and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are probably a good enough duo, and cheap. The White Sox seem to want to ‘let the kids play’ and the Angels value catcher defense too much to make that move. Perhaps the Mariners are desperate enough for offense to slot Posada in behind Miguel Olivo? The Orioles could sigh him as a DH replacement for Vladimir Guerrero, but there are probably better options out there, and Matt Wieters doesn’t need much of a caddy.
Verdict: Orioles or retirement.
In Rod the Dodgers trusted, and he didn’t really let them down. When he was in there. Groin, wrist and ankle injuries cut 30 days out of his season. Compare that to fellow 36-year-old Hernandez (four official missed days) and it has to be somewhat of an issue. Barajas also doesn’t have the same offensive upside, except when it comes to power. He’s had an above-average ISO every year since 2003, and since he doesn’t walk much, that’s his offensive skill. Still, he’s been better than your average catcher with the stick and the glove, and beggars can’t be choosers. Barajas was quoted recently as saying he’d like to re-sign with the Dodgers, and even if the team likes A.J. Ellis in the long term, they’d probably want a caddy for him.
If you’re looking for a catcher that can actually catch and is under 35, the best option might be Josh Bard. And he’s 34 and hasn’t been a starter since 2009. He still has the potential to put up a year that’s only about 20% worse than league average if given more of an opportunity, with average to below-average defense. How’s that for exciting? He’s six years younger than consummate veteran Henry Blanco, and might be better than the 36-year-old Ramon Castro. Gerald Laird, Jose Molina and Brian Schneider are in the same space, but what really separates these guys? Is anyone going to sign Ivan Rodriguez or Jason Kendall? Maybe? As for who might want this kind of a backup catcher, take your pick. The Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Royals, Cardinals, and Phillies could be looking for a cheap catcher. None these guys would start for any of these teams.