The Dodgers have somewhat surprisingly been the most active team so far this offseason, signing Juan Rivera and Mark Ellis as free agents while shelling out huge bucks to retain Matt Kemp long-term. They added another free agent earlier this week, signing catcher Matt Treanor to a one-year contract worth a guaranteed $1 million. There’s also a club option for 2013.
The 35-year-old backstop spent last season with the Royals and Rangers, mustering an 82 wRC+ in 242 plate appearances, both numbers representing the second highest totals of his career. Treanor did shatter his previous career highs in walks and walk rate, drawing 34 free passes (none intentional) for a 14.0% rate. From 2004-2010, the first seven years of his career, he walked in just 8.9% of his plate appearances. Treanor nearly doubled his career walk rate in 2011 by simply not swinging the bat; he went from offering at 50.9% of the pitches he saw in 2009 to just 40.9% this year. Part of that may be explained by batting eighth ahead of the punchless Alcides Escobar for most of the season, but Treanor may have decided he just wasn’t a good hitter, so he wasn’t going to swing unless he absolutely had too.
Defensively, our fielding numbers rate him as almost perfectly average, between -2.0 and zero runs in each of the last four seasons. Treanor threw out just 14 of 56 attempted basestealers in 2011 (exactly 25%), right in line with his 26.1% career rate. He’s nothing special with the glove but he’s not a Ryan Doumit type of butcher, and unless that improved walk rate proves to be real improvement and not just a fluke, Treanor isn’t anything more than your generic replacement level backup catcher.
The Dodgers have two other backstops on their 40-man roster, Tim Federowicz and A.J. Ellis. Federowicz was acquired from the Red Sox in this summer’s Erik Bedard three-way swap, and he’s generally regarded as a catch-and-throw defensive specialist. Ellis is a bit more interesting, at least offensively, because he’s shown serious on-base skills throughout his career. He walked more than he struck out in the minors (336 BB vs. 283 K), reaching base in 40.6% of his 2,119 minor league plate appearances. He’s followed that up by reaching base in 86 of his 244 big league plate appearances (.360 OBP). Ellis also threw out attempted basestealers at essentially the same rate as Federowicz down in the bush leagues.
Ellis is no kid, he’ll turn 31 in April, but given the Dodgers’ general lack of offense and Federowicz’s lack of Triple-A exposure (just 25 games at the level), he should be given the chance to caddy with Treanor, and probably should start. The offensive standard for catchers is so low these days that anyone who can get on base at an above-average rate while donning the tools of ignorance becomes an offensive weapon. Treanor might able to do that given last season’s adjustments, but Ellis’ on-base track record is much more significant.