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Zaun Inks with Brewers

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, free agent catcher Gregg Zaun signed a one-year, $1.9M pact with the Milwaukee Brewers. The deal includes a $2.25M option for the 2011 season ($250K buyout). Since the Rays offered Zaun (a type B free agent) arbitration, they’ll pick up a supplemental first-rounder.

The switch-hitting Zaun has taken ball four and popped an occasional base hit for 15 years now. The man once dubbed “The Practically Perfect Backup Catcher” will turn 39 years old in April, but he’s coming off of a productive 2009 campaign split between the Orioles and the Rays.

In 296 PA, Zaun posted a .334 wOBA. He continued to take his walks (10.6 BB%, 16.9 Outside-Swing%) and managed a .156 ISO. That might not quicken your pulse, but the average MLB catcher authored a .310 wOBA in 2009, with a .141 ISO.

Much like he did when he joined the O’s last year, Zaun will probably provide a helping hand as a rookie catcher breaks into the big leagues. The Brewers have two catching prospects at the upper levels of the farm system: Jonathan Lucroy and Angel Salome.

A 3rd round pick in the ’07 draft, Lucroy compiled a .267/.380/.418 line at AA Huntsville last season. The 23 year-old likely won’t be a huge power threat at the highest level. But he possesses exceptional strike-zone discipline, having taken a free pass 15.7% of the time at Huntsville in 2009 (his career minor league walk rate is 11.6 percent).

Salome, also 23, spent the ’09 campaign at AAA Nashville. His future is murky if he can’t remain behind the dish, however. Built like Barney Rubble at 5-7 and 200 pounds, Salome is considered a fringy defensive catcher. Baseball America said he “often gets his footwork messed up behind the plate.” If he can’t cut it at catcher, where does he play?

Salome has bashed to the tune of a .316/.364/.483 line in the minors, including a .286/.334/.413 performance at Nashville last year. Salome’s career BABIP on the farm is .354: not exactly what one would expect from a catcher about as tall as Yogi Berra.

Here’s how CHONE projects the Brew Crew’s catching troika in 2010:

Zaun: .228/.323/.353
Lucroy: .247/.335/.379
Salome: .270/.321/.408

CHONE sees Zaun’s numbers regressing to a wOBA around .303. Bill James gives us a .316 projection, and the fans (194 people have weighed in on Zaun already? Whoa) call for a .318 wOBA.

Zaun looks like an intelligent, low-cost addition for Milwaukee, if not a terribly exciting fantasy option. Lucroy and Salome both have enough offensive skills to be of interest down the road, though Salome will have to prove he has the defensive chops to remain at the position.