Monday, October 24, 2005

Campaign '06: Catcher

The Incumbents, Catcher: Brian Schneider and Gary Benett.

Brian Schneider is under the team's control. If they offer arbitration, he'll run again next season.

Schneider is a lock to return, and should receive a healthy raise next season. He made $2 million this year, and should get a decent raise, probably to the $3-4 million range. He's an exceptional defensive catcher, with a strong, quick release. Towards the end of the season, his defense suffered because of a shoulder injury that shut him down for the final month of the season, but there's no reason he won't rebound next year.

Offensively, he's excellent, especially for the position. He had a 99 OPS+ (where 100 is league average). If you're getting league-average offense out of your catcher, you're on your way to having a decent team. He hit .266/ .327/ .409, whereas the league average catcher hit just .250/ .313/ .363; he gets on base more, and slugs more than the average catcher, even before you adjust for the extreme pitcher's park he played in.

He'll cruise to an easy re-election.

The vice catcher's job is different. Gary Bennett is a free agent, and unlikely to be re-signed. His offense was pitiful (a 56 OPS+) And team officials were unhappy with his defense. He was especially poor at blocking pitches at the plate, and he'll probably head to his seventh team in six years.

His former office is wide open.

The Issues:
Backup catchers are usually pretty easy to acquire. There are plenty floating around (and more will become available after teams decide whether to tender contracts in a few weeks). With Schneider's defensive strength, it's not as important to have a defensive stud. As long as they can block the plate occasionally, the team should be ok.

Ideally, they'd be right-handed, so they could give Schneider a day of rest against some lefties, while gaining the platoon advantage.

The Contenders:
Brad Ausmus: Defensive Wiz, Offensively inept. I can't see Houston letting him go anyway.
John Flaherty: Decent power, ok defense. Likely to be re-signed by the Yankees to be Randy Johnson's caddy. Plus he turns 38 next season.
Todd Greene: A DH who plays catcher. He's benefited by playing in hitter's parks the last four years.
Eddie Perez: Greg Maddux' former caddy, you know he's good defensively. And truthfully, he's not a bad hitter in platoon situations. But he's older than dirt, and chained to Bobby Cox' side.
Todd Pratt: Contractually obligated to play for the Phillies or Mets. He's a below-average defender, but above-average hitter. He has an excellent eye, getting on base at a .350 clip for his career, making him a league-average hitter overall. Would be an excellent platoon partner.
Kelly Stinnett: Low average, below-average defense. Not a horrible hitter for a catcher.
Chris Widger: The Expos' former starter, he doesn't get on base much, but can really slug the ball.

The Dark Horse:
Benji Molina and Ramon Hernandez are the two biggest names on the market. Molina isn't young, and is already the slowest player in the majors. Plus he's never been that good offensively. Hernandez, on the other hand, is good offensively, especially once you adjust for the park. Ramon is the only catcher on the market who'd be an upgrade over Schneider. And even then, it'd be close.

The Trilateral Commission Recommends:
Left-handed hitting, defensive-oriented catchers who can hit are worth their weight in tungsten. Ship him to the Mets for Aaron Heilman and some prospects, or to Anaheim for Maicer Izturis and Juan Rivera.

What About My Vote?
One of Pratt, Stinnett or Widger (probably that order), would earn their place at the top of my ballot. We paid Gary Bennett $750,000 to stink up the park last year. We could probably have any of those for between $750K and $900K.