Free Agent Catchers

The Gray Eagle at Sons of Sam Horn had an interesting post

Most Catchers Stink
Since the Sox could very well be in the market for a new catcher (or two) I thought we should have a thread about potential replacements. I checked the catchers listed over at yahoo but was so disappointed at the potential available catchers that I stopped after looking at about half of them. Varitek is going to be very, very difficult to replace if he leaves, and so will Mirabelli.
Here’s a start at a report on some potentially available catchers. Feel free to add to it or change it. Scouting reports quoted from yahoo.com:
Paul LoDuca:
“Paul is considered one of the best two-way catchers in the National League. A very durable receiver, he has caught more than 1,000 innings each of the past two seasons. Pitchers enjoy throwing to him and he does a good job of controlling the running game. In 2003 he threw out 41 percent of opposing baserunners trying to steal, sending 57 runners back to the dugout. Paul is also an excellent contact hitter, with the power to drive the ball into the gaps.”
.757 OPS vs. righties this year, .740 lifetime.
Miguel Ojeda:
“Miguel, 32, appeared in 61 games for the Padres last season, hitting .234 with four home runs and 22 RBIs. The Padres acquired Miguel on May 17 when they purchased his contract from the Mexico City Red Devils. Miguel, a native of Sonara, Mexico, was recalled from the minors in May and made his major-league debut against the Atlanta Braves on May 17. In 2002, Miguel had a great season for Mexico City, hitting .352 with 19 home runs and 80 RBIs.”
Greg Myers:
Lefty hitter, had a great 2003, got hurt and only played 8 games in 2004. Who knows if he’s any good defensively anymore, or how he’ll bounce back from his injury. Old. .719 lifetime OPS vs. righties.
Tom Wilson:
34 years old, righty. Was a soild part-timer with Toronto, then did nothing in the NL last year. Yet another guy not as good as Mirabelli.
Michael Barrett:
28-year-old righty. Had a good year with the bat with Cubs, good arm. .745 OPS vs. righties in his career. Converted SS, who knows about his defense or game-calling. Good starting catcher, so Cubs would keep him if they can.
Brad Ausmus:
Gammons favorite. “Brad is known as a thinking-man’s catcher as well as one of the best defensive catchers in the National League. Brad won the first of two straight Gold Gloves in 2001, throwing out nearly 48 percent of would-be base stealers. Brad added his second Gold Glove in 2002. Pitchers praise his ability to not only throw out opposing base runners but to call a good game behind the plate. While known for his glove, Brad is a career .256 hitter who produces 50 to 60 RBIs nearly every season. While known for his defensive ability, Brad is a durable catcher as well, playing in 143 games last season and averaging 133 games over the last three seasons.”
Hits better vs. lefties than righties, so platooning with Belli is out.
Damian Miller:
solid bat for a catcher, good arm. Doesn’t Oakland control him? Why would they move him?
AJ Pierzinski:
Good stick. Bad reputation. Alienated entire pitching staff this year in SF over his lack of preparation, widely hated around baseball. Kind of the anti-Varitek.
Mike Redmond:
RH, will be 34. .695 OPS vs. righties this year, .666 in his career. “A fine defensive backstop with a strong and accurate arm, Mike is one of the best backup catchers in baseball. He’s also an excellent contact hitter. Mike hit over .300 in back-to-back season in 2001-02.”
Mike (Pat) Matheny:
34-year-old righty. Great defender, crappy hitter. “There are very few big-league catchers that can handle a pitching staff as effectively as Mike, and he was recognized for his efforts by being awarded the Gold Glove award for the second time in 2003. Mike, who also won the Gold Glove in 2000, has a .993 career fielding percentage and has thrown out better than 35 percent of would be base-stealers. ” .620 OPS vs. righties this year, .617 lifetime.
Adam Milhouse:
will be 33. Switch hitter, .807 OPS vs. righties in 2004 in only 189 at-bats. No idea about defense.

bowiac chimed in with another candidate, Jason Kendall.

If I had much confidence that Varitek wasn’t likely to become a shell of himself pretty soon, then yeah, I’d be all over signing Varitek. The fact is however that he’s old for a catcher, and is a pretty good bet to be a $10M noose around the team’s neck by 2006.
There are two real alternatives as I see it.
1. Mirabelli.
2. Kendall. Making about the same as what Varitek is likely to get, and as good a player, and two full years younger. Plus, the pirates are dying to be rid of his contract. If we want to pursue someone from the Pirates for instance, we could offer to take Kendall’s contract as part of a trade for a Pirates player. They have plenty of good young players about to get expensive that we could try and trade for.
Even if there isn’t anyone, I still take Jason Kendall at $9M/year over Varitek at $9M.

An article was linked by a member to The Hardball Times, to a story by Aaron Gleeman on the free agent prospects of catchers. Some interesting tidbits:

Varitek is also extremely durable, playing 132, 142 and 137 games over the last three seasons, while catching over 1,000 innings per year. He’s a good defender and his arm, while not outstanding, is decent. In all, he’s likely one of the five best catchers in baseball. The only real negatives with Varitek are that he hasn’t been great away from hitter-friendly Fenway Park (.256/.332/.428 from 2002-04) and will be 33 years old in 2005, which is like 40 in catcher years. Last year, Lopez was also turning 33 and he got a three-year, $22.5-million contract from the Orioles. I think that’s probably a pretty good guess as to Varitek’s likely market, although Lopez had a much better “walk year” than Varitek had, hitting .328/.378/.687 with 43 homers and 109 RBIs in 129 games with the Braves in 2003.
Varitek is expected to re-sign with Boston, and even if doesn’t, he’s likely too pricey for most teams with catching needs.

After Varitek and [Damian] Miller, the pickings get extremely thin. The only other free agent catchers who played on an everyday basis in 2004 were Henry Blanco, who hit a measly .206/.260/.368 in 114 games filling in for an injured Joe Mauer in Minnesota, and Mike Matheny, who batted just .247/.292/.348 for the Cardinals in yet another season with over 100 games caught and an OPS under .700.

A team looking to fill their catching void cheaply would be wise to take a look at Doug Mirabelli, who has been Varitek’s backup in Boston for the last four years. The .281/.368/.525 he hit in 59 games with the Red Sox this year is a little bit over his head offensively, but combined over the past three seasons Mirabelli hit .255/.330/.462 in 531 plate appearances. That is essentially one full-season’s worth of playing time, in which he hit 22 homers and 32 doubles, walked 47 times, and drove in 75 runs.

He also lists other available guys, such as Todd Pratt, Greg Myers, Gregg Zaun, Kelly Stinnett, Todd Greene, Dan Wilson, Sandy Alomar Jr., Einar Diaz, Brent Mayne and John Flaherty. The crop is pretty weak.
I have to say that I think the Red Sox will sign Jason Varitek and let Doug Mirabelli go (rumors have it the A’s are making overtures about making Mirabelli their starter) and then I think they should sign Dan Wilson. He’s been catching a lot the last couple of years, is an upstanding citizen, and would make a fine backup. Also, he’s old enough that he could just stick around for a year, giving prospect Kelly Shoppach an extra year to develop.
While we’re surfing the internet, perhaps you’re interested in personal pictures of the World Series and Parade! Mike Huntoon, he who put together the MVN flash header on the home page has also put together pictures from various people commemorating the World Series and Parade. Check the pictures out!