Sorting Through Free Agent Catchers (UPDATED)Posted: November 13, 2012
Now that the Braves have lost their trusty backup catcher in David Ross, they will need to go scavenge the market and hunt one down.
To start off in the Braves system, I do not think 26-year old ”prospect” Evan Gattis is a legitimate MLB catcher. His defense is very poor, which is why the Braves have transitioned him into the outfield, and he has not proved to be able to hit above Double-A thus far. The real prospect, 21-year old Christian Bethancourt, had been ready defensively by all accounts but his horrific offensive numbers show he’s not MLB ready. Unfortunately, his hit tool was recently described as “hopeless”. If anything, Bethancourt needs reps in the minors, not stuck behind McCann for most of the season.
So with the help of FanGraphs custom free agent leaderboard, I will run down the list of some players the Braves should target which have been pre-sorted by 2012 fWAR.
The first three names, A.J. Pierzynski, Russell Martin and Mike Napoli are likely to receive full-time jobs and therefore would not be a fit for the Braves. Next is David Ross… ouch. Then comes our first real contender in Kelly Schoppach. I think there is about a 95% chance the Braves go after a right-handed (hitting) catcher to counter act against McCann. While it is not absolutely necessary, it is more advantageous to work McCann’s off days around when lefties are scheduled to pitch, hopefully giving the Braves a platoon advantage.
Back to Schoppach. His career numbers aren’t all that impressive, .226/.309/.425 and a .25 K/BB ratio, but his total offensive contributions, a wRC+ of 97, is above league average for the catching position. Over the past 10 seasons, catchers have averaged a wRC+ of 88. He is very similar to Ross is that he strikeouts out a lot, over 30%, but makes up for it with some power. I think this is probably the Braves top target on the free agent market.
Next on the list is Chris Iannetta, but he already resigned with the Angels on October 6.
Now it starts to get a little bleak with Gerald Laid next on the list. Again, decent with the bat last season as a back up. He is a good example of how much players can fluctuate from season to season given a small sample size of plate appearances. He’s basically bounced everywhere in between the .200 and .300 level in his career. Not that exciting, but would be a serviceable backup.
Then, as expected, it gets depressing. There’s a big group of players who hit ~.200 and get on-base under 30% of the time. Catchers like (2012 salary is in parentheses), Miguel Olivo ($3.75M), Brian Schnieder ($800K), Henry Blanco($1.2M), Matt Treanor ($850K), Rod Barajas($4M) and Ronny Paulino ($1M) are depressing names to a team that has had the luxury of David Ross for the past four seasons. It probably doesn’t help that I associate those names with teams like the Marlins, Mets, Mariners and Pirates. Pick which ever one you want, because it will be a shot in the dark how they will perform. Likely somewhere around .200/300/.350. All are veterans who probably wont cost more than $1M to sign. In my eyes, they are all basically the same but not that good.
There is a possibility they could make a trade. The Red Sox have been rumored to be shopping Jarrod Saltalmacchia now that they have an overload of catchers. Being a former Braves prospect himself, many feel he could be a potential fit for the club. He’s a switch hitter whose numbers have been very league average numbers for the catching position. 2013 will be his final year of team control before he becomes a free agent in 2014. Last season he made $2.5M and according to MLBTR is projected to make $3.9M this season. Wait… we gave up Ross for $3.1M though. Nevermind, I guess it would look foolish to trade for him.
I am unclear about what other teams would be willing to trade their extra catchers, but it is probably pretty thin. I guess the good news is the Braves shouldn’t have too much competition for the services of Shoppach or Laird. Those seem to be the two front-runners at this point. The bleak market makes this look a little worse for the Braves not resigning Ross. I would hope they push hard for Schoppach who only made $1.35M last season. Call me crazy, but I am still not going to jump all over the front office for not resigning him. There are other options out there that can give the Braves a better return on their money, or at least equal return for less dollars.
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UPDATE (11/15 2:00PM): Ken Rosenthal and Mark Bowman have reported that the Braves have signed 33-year old Gerald Laird to a two-year deal. The value of the contract has yet to be announced. I would guess somewhere near the $3.5M mark over the two seasons. As I mentioned, Laird would have been my second choice so I’m fine with this if the money is right, which I expect it will be.