The Mitts in Boston

With Kevin Cash signing a minor league deal with the New York Yankees (certain to embark more gamesmanship talk than the move merits) and Jason Varitek hanging in limbo, the Red Sox will need to find two catchers in a rather weak catching market. Unlike most teams, Boston’s reserve catcher does not simply play on random or in day games following night games. Instead, the back-up catcher for the past few seasons is simply Tim Wakefield’s caddy. That means the Red Sox are looking for a quality starter and a back up with either experience dealing with knucklers or a willingness and aptitude to do so.

It seems likely that George Kottaras, perhaps best known for being the return on David Wells, will be the Sox reserve backstop in 2009. An offensively gifted catcher, Kottaras produced 7.6 wRAA for Pawtucket last season, and throughout his career is usually around league average. Next year’s strikeout rates could look ugly, but Kottaras does a decent job of drawing walks, which helps to offset some of the sting. As for actually catching, Kottaras looks awful. In 70 games with Pawtucket Kottaras threw out ~19% of baserunners, or 15 of 80 and had 10 passed balls. It’s worth noting that Kottaras did catch a knuckleballer in Pawtucket by the name of Charlie Zink. While it would be easy to blame that connection on Kottaras poor numbers, Kottaras body of work speaks against the notion that Zink was the catalyst for defensive ineptitude.

If Kottaras is the back-up, who is the starter? The Elias Sports Bureau all but guaranteed Jason Varitek’s career would end in a Red Sox uniform when their compensatory system crowned him as a Type-A free agent. Varitek’s not getting any younger, and if you recall, was pitiful last season. Flashing a low line drive rate while walking less and whiffing more. Fans and pundits alike will talk up Varitek’s game calling abilities along with intangibles immeasurable. Denying that such attributes exist is foolhardy; instead we’ll assume the effects are marginal until proven otherwise.

Of course, there’s also the loyalty aspect between the two sides. When Boston traded Heathcliff Slocumb to the Seattle Mariners for Derek Lowe and the 25-year-old Varitek in 1997, they had no idea a minor league catcher without a great track record of success would turn into a stalwart through a decade and two World Series championship teams. To all of those who would say the Sox owe it to Varitek, I would remind you that the Sox should be committed first and foremost to winning. Sometimes to keep that commitment, emotions must be placed aside. Varitek’s performances have yet to reach the point where it hurts the Red Sox by simply playing (1.3 WAR in 2008, three-year average of ~1.8) but he’s nearing the age where a total collapse is not unexpected.

Finding a worthwhile catcher on the free agent market is tough as usual. A name that leaps off the list in terms of low-risk medium-reward is Josh Bard. The former Sox, Bard is an interesting buy-low candidate, in large part due to bad luck. A .230 batting average on balls in play and 21.6% line drives, don’t gel whatsoever. Bard’s walk and strikeout rates remained static to his career averages, and unlike last time, catching a knuckleball will not be in the job description. Over the last three seasons, Bard’s average WAR is higher than Varitek’s, albeit in fewer plate appearances.

The other option for Boston is to acquire a catcher via trade. Texas Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the best longevity-pleasing option around. Whether the Red Sox are willing to part with the price associated with the former top prospect, (likely one of the Buccholz/Bowden/Masterson trio) is to be seen. Saltalamacchia struck out 37.4% last season, yet still found a way to walk enough to maintain a decent on-base percentage. The power shown in the minors should come soon, even if the defense remains shoddy. Saltalamacchia is only expendable because of the Rangers young studded catching surplus, the equivalent of running a gun shop during the zombie apocalypse.

Given Boston’s proficiency in managing their roster correctly, you almost have to expect the Sox to upgrade behind the dish heading into next season.




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19 Responses to “The Mitts in Boston”

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  1. Marshall Walter says:

    I think in the paragraph about “Heathcliff Slocumb” where you state: “they had no idea a minor league catcher without a great track record of success would turn into a stalemate through a decade and two World Series championship teams” you maybe meant to use the world “stalwart” not “stalemate”.

    Or else I just totally missed the point of the paragraph (or don’t have near as good a grasp of sarcasm as I would like to believe).

    Either way – thanks for the great content hear! It’s a blessing to read. Have a very Merry Christmas!

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  2. Marshall Walter says:

    *thanks for the great content here…

    Gotta love the irony!

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  3. The Ancient Mariner says:

    I would note that Varitek had been a first-round pick out of Georgia Tech not all that long before. Yeah, he’d stalled in the M’s system, but that happened a lot in the M’s system (compare also Mike Hampton’s career to that of other young Mariner pitching prospects of the time); I’d be willing to bet the Sox had a clue they could get him to play up to his potential, and were a lot less surprised than you make them out to be.

    Speaking of M’s catchers, though, a guy who could be a reasonable option as a backup for the Sox is Jamie Burke — solid glove guy, would come cheap, caught R. A. Dickey this past season, and will likely be available during ST this year as long as neither Kenji Johjima nor Jeff Clement looks like a complete disaster (and perhaps, unless Seattle deals Rob Johnson, even if one of them does).

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  4. Darren says:

    The Sox should go ahead and sign Bard as fast as they can. If they can land a young stud in a trade, he can serve as the caretaker/mentor. If they can’t, he’s the starter with one of Kotteras or Brown backing up (not too savory but it’s a backup catcher afterall). IRRC, during his time in Boston, Wakefield was effusive in praising Bard’s work ethic, despite the fact that Bard just couldn’t catch the knuckler.

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  5. Hodad says:

    Varitek has been overpaid for years. Giving him a two-year deal (or one plus option) makes some sense here, given his relationship with DiceK and Lester. However, it would be hard to stall the development of Salty etc by making them wait around for a year for Tek to fall off the cliff completely. Now, it doesn’t make sense for the Rangers to carry three quality catchers who all could bring back solid pieces to their farm. I think Salty or Max could be had for someone not in the aforementioned trio of Bowden/Mast/Buch once the spring starts to approach. I’m worried though that Max was moved to 1B this season in the majors – does anyone have his UZR as a catcher in AA? All in all, expect the Sox to acquire a long-term solution this off-season.

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  6. Justin says:

    Why is Varitek’s UZR not available?

    Hodad, I would not say “overpaid”. He has value that you cannot measure to an extreme, but to say 10M to someone who was decent at the plate and a great coach behind the plate, is a little overstated……

    I think come close to spring traning the Rangers are going to realize they do not need 2 stud catchers on there roster, it will only stunt the development. And, Ramirez will be a DH/1B, but do you really need 2 catchers when you do not have one good SP on your roster?
    I believe they will take Bowden for Salty. I am hoping that we can deal maybe Bowden and Kalish or Navarro(SS) for Teagarden. I may even be willing to do Bowden and Bard for Teagarden. I know that is a lot to give up, but how often does a catcher who has slightly above average fielding, raw power, good bat speed, and a good eye??? Not very often. And Salty is not the greatest defender as you pointed out…….

    I saw we should not give up Masterson and Buchholz, they are too valuable for next years team…..

    Great article, happy holidays……namaste

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  7. Darren says:

    Justin,

    They don’t do UZR on catchers–zone doesn’t really apply. I think Rally (AROM, Chone Smith) does catcher defense and has Tek as above average. He’s pointed out that overall Tek is an average-ish catcher and says the Sox would be wise to sign him for $8 to $10 mil. I have a feeling he’s right, but man it’s tough watching Tek “hit.”

    Speaking as someone who likes Buchholz and Masterson, and young players in general, I still have a hard time seeing them as untouchable. Buc fell apart last year and Masterson may be destined for the bullpen. Each guy has about the same amount of warts as Saltalamachia. Meanwhile, Bowden has met every challenge he’s faced, is only 21, and his stuff has reportedly taken a step forward.

    Does Theo’s “+1″ above mean he agrees with me? If so, Theo, I’m available for consulting work and I’m willing to wear a gorilla suit.

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  8. Justin says:

    +1, Theo, are you referring to Tek’s UZR???

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  9. Justin says:

    and would that +1 be before or after the catcher adjustments???

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  10. Justin says:

    and on the Value page, how can you really get catcher’s true value with no UZR??

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  11. Justin says:

    Scratch that……I really did not realize Bowden was the best SP at any level of the minors last yr…..

    Incredible

    Hang on to him Theo unless we get Teagarden straight up……….

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  12. Darren says:

    Theo,

    Thanks for listening on Bard. Next up, a trade for Salty. Chop chop.

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  13. Justin says:

    I say, sign Tek for 2 more years and get Mauer after the ’10 season……….We cannot have Bard as our starter……and truthfully, can he really catch Wakefield??? Didn’t we trade for him, then trade him to SD for Mirabelli b/c he could not catch Wake???

    This has to be a precursor to a Salty or Teagarden trade. Bard and one of those two splitting time??? I guess that can work………

    Lock up Paps next, and possibly Youk if he will just stop being so stubborn. :) haha

    Great Pick up on Penny, Theo……..Pure Genious, even though I was incredibly frustrated and felt quite blue-balled after you failed to pony up 12M for Teixera. You let the Yank catch up……even though he was obviouslly a “want” and not a “need”, but still…….

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  14. Justin says:

    Eric–Can you please settle this……..

    Isn’t Lars Anderson a future DH, and Papi’s replacement. We emphasize D, and from what I have heard/seen, he looks more like a DH, then an above avg. 1B. Why move Youk in 2 or 3 yrs from now to 3rd???

    Can he really hang at 1B???

    There are not many good 3B FA in the next few yrs (Beltre and Chipper), and it seems as if our plan is to put Lars at 1B, but is this really wise???? Especially if Papi is done for in 2 or 3 yrs.

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  15. I don’t think I can ever go back to getting my eyebrows waxed. Eyebrow threading is so much better. The shape is amazing and my skin doesn’t get as irritated.

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  16. Rev Halofan says:

    Lester for Mike Napoli

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  17. Creare site says:

    Exetrmely helpful article, please write more.
    Team Creare site

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