Zaun on the Market

Does your team need a catcher for 2010? Well, you might be in some trouble. With Victor Martinez‘s option picked up today (and Jason Varitek exercising his player option), here’s a list of free agent catchers who received more than 200 PAs last year, courtesy of Cot’s Contracts

Rod Barajas TOR (B)
Josh Bard WAS
Henry Blanco SD
Ramon Hernandez * CIN (B)
Jason Kendall MIL (B)
Bengie Molina SF (A)
Miguel Olivo KC (B)
Ivan Rodriguez TEX (B)
Yorvit Torrealba COL (B)
Gregg Zaun TB

*Cincinnati holds an $8.5MM club option

The average 2009 WAR of these players was 1.2. You’re not going to find any superstars out of this bunch, but there are a few interesting contributors in an extended backup or starting role this year. Although Miguel Olivo leads this bunch in 2009 WAR at 2.2, he was playing over his head (21.2% HR/FB rate), and is also a terrible defensive catcher from most reports. Gregg Zaun was second with 1.8 WAR, put up in 296 PAs between Baltimore and Tampa Bay.

Zaun’s .334 wOBA ranked 10th in the league among catchers with at least 200 PAs. Zaun did have some decent BABIP luck, with a .291 vs. a career mark (over 15 seasons) of .276. Still, Zaun’s combination of good plate discipline (10.6% walk rate/12.1% career) and roughly average power (.156 ISO/.137 career) at the catcher position makes him a very interesting piece. Pro-rated to 600 plate appearances, Zaun’s 2009 was worth 3.6 wins.

At his career wOBA mark of .316, Zaun is worth closer to 2.8 wins, which is still excellent, especially when compared to the rest of the catchers on the market. Interestingly, the Rays decided to buy him out for 500,000 dollars, rather than accept his $2MM option for 2010. Word is that Zaun is interested in returning to Tampa given that he is from the area and will have the opportunity to start, and may take a deal for less than the 2 million dollars that his option would have paid him.

Zaun may be one of the rare cases where it’s not all about the money, and if he wants to stay in Tampa Bay, more power to him. If he’s actually trying to get top dollar out of the market, however, Zaun needs to look elsewhere. The Rays have little leverage – their catchers accrued a staggering -28 wRAA last year, thanks to Dioner Navarro‘s mighty struggles. The Rays definitely have need. The Brewers, Giants, Mets, and Blue Jays also have obvious needs at catcher, thanks to free agency and incompetency, and catcher is always a position where teams are looking to improve.

Zaun’s skills appear to be worth about 8 million dollars in a platooning role (~400 PAs), and more in a starting role. If the Rays actually sign Zaun to a contract of less than 2 million, it could be the steal of the offseason. If they lose him, it may be one of the biggest mistakes.

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