Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Free Agent Catchers

For the Tigers, catcher is a position that is in a different situation than in the recent past. For the past five years, Ivan Rodriguez has had a hold on the position and there was very little in the way of prospects pushing him out the door. With Rodriguez gone, his replacement Brandon Inge back to third base, possible backup Vance Wilson gone via free agency, there is very little in the way of veteran incumbency. Looking down on the farm, Dusty Ryan had a breakout year, James Skelton continued to impress with his on base skills, and Alex Avila turned some heads in Instructional League after being drafted in the fifth round this year.

While a catcher in the short term is needed to split the time with Dusty Ryan and ensure that the position is covered if he isn't ready, with three pretty good catching prospects on the horizon, the Tigers probably won't feel like committing themselves to a catcher on a long term contract. As it stands right now, here is a really quick projection of the opening day catchers on each full season roster.

-Dusty Ryan

-Max St. Pierre
-Andrew Graham

-James Skelton
-Adrian Casanova

-Alex Avila
-Devin Thomas

West Michigan
-Joe Bowen
-Angel Flores

Other candidates
-Jeff Kunkel
-Charlie Lisk
-Tyler Weber

As it stands, a second major league catcher is an absolute must. It also appears as if a starter at Toledo is necessary as a third catcher. This means the Tigers have two holes to fill. For the purposes of this post, we'll say they will be filled through free agency.

What I have done is gone through each catcher I could find on the free agent market, either from the Major League front or the Minor League front, and categorized them based on a projected role that they would be capable of filling.

Possible MLB Starters/Backups
  1. Josh Bard: Billfer has already given him the endorsement, but he has emerged as my top target. Yes, he was downright brutal in '08, but he did put up very good offensive seasons for the Padres in 2006 and 2007. You can chalk it up to an injury, bad luck, or possibly a decline in skills. Throw in the fact that he'll be a one year commitment and his offensive skills match up with a platoon with Dusty Ryan, and it makes too much sense. Buy low.
  2. Ivan Rodriguez: Still is a capable player and is still healthy. The problem is that he wants a lot of money and a lot of years. If it gets to February and the Tigers need a catcher and Pudge needs a home, this could make some sense. In fact, that sounds somewhat familiar.
Possible MLB Backups
  1. David Ross: This is kind of a darkhorse. He's been cut free by the Reds and Red Sox in the past couple of months. I still see him as a guy who can hit some, and he has some success gunning down runners in the past couple of years.
  2. Gregg Zaun: Probably can't be counted on for an every day role. If the goal is to find somebody who can catch 100+ games and still be productive, another direction would probably be preferred. Zaun's skills are declining quickly.
  3. Henry Blanco: Still can cut down baserunners, but has never been that great of a hitter. At 37, this would be a backup at best.
  4. Jason Varitek: Will be too pricy. I've already addressed him.
  5. Javier Valentin: I wanted to mention him, but he didn't catch much this year. Can still hit some, but probably can't handle much more than 30 or 40 games behind the plate.
The following players are guys who would be suitable third catchers or Toledo starters. While the previous lists are in order of preference, this one is in no particular order.
  • Eliezar Alfonzo
  • Brad Ausmus
  • Paul Bako
  • Michael Barrett
  • Gary Bennett
  • Luke Carlin
  • Johnny Estrada
  • Sal Fasano
  • Toby Hall
  • Paul Hoover
  • J.R. House
  • Mark Johnson
  • Erik Kratz
  • Paul Lo Duca
  • Carlos Maldanado
  • Luis Oliveros
  • Guillermo Rodriguez
  • Chris Stewart
  • Justin Knoedler
One more guy I wanted to address is Vance Wilson. He evidently wants to return, and it could make some sense to let him rehab in the minors as an emergency option.


Bryan said...

Kenji Johjima should be available to any team interested in taking on his contract.

He struggled a lot last year, but still has some upside.

Matt said...

That would surprise me. I read that Ms' ownership had a hand in his extension, and it would be surprising if they mandated that so they could trade him.

djbbjd said...

I don't see Pudge here. As much as we as fans like him, it seems that he must be a pain in the rear to play with at times. Why else would a team let go of him? This is only a hunch, but I think he may be a difficult personality when things aren't going his way. We see that as passion. How do teammates and management see it?