Sunday, July 02, 2006

Catcher of the Future?

Ivan Rodriguez is not getting any younger, and his numbers are slowly starting to show it. Sometime in the next couple of years, the Tigers are going to have to find a new catcher. Will they be able to plug somebody in from the farm without missing a beat or will the free agent markets have to be ventured into?

At the Major League level, Ivan Rodriguez is still regarded as one of the best in the league, despite youngsters like Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, and to a lesser extent Russ Martin and Mike Napoli passing him over. Regardless, Pudge is far from a hole in the lineup or in the field yet. Signed through next season, the Tigers will have to make a decision on their Hall of Fame catcher. 2008 holds a $13 million option, with a $3 million buyout. As long as Pudge hasn't gone Dmitri Young on us, fans would go berzerk if he is not signed to a long term extension: a long term extension that is not a good idea. We are talking about a guy who at any moment could lose his remaining skills, and it would be a huge mistake to be on the hook for several years. As we have seen with guys like Todd Jones and Jeff Weaver this year, the bigger cost of signing bad players to big contracts is not the money, but the fact that they get far too many chances to justify the contract, regardless of how bad they play. Such a problem could arise if the Tigers opt to sign Rodriguez to a long term deal.

As for the option, a lot depends on which direction Pudge goes the next couple of years. If he stays about where he is (as PECOTA suggests he should), another year would not be a bad decision. If he declines even more next year, it may be time to look someplace else.

The most natural player that people will look at is Vance Wilson. Unfortunately, Vance is also getting up there in age. There is a good chance, at age 33, this is his last productive season. It would probably be wise to let Wilson go after the season and take a shot at a younger backup whose stock will be rising as Pudge needs more and more time off.

Next time around, I will take a look at possible free agents out there as well as a look down on the farm among Tigers catchers.

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