Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Weighing Catching Options for 2014

It's widely assumed the Red Sox view Jarrod Saltalamacchia as a sure player to resign with the team. He has more than lived up to his contract that was signed to avoid his final season of arbitration.  Now that Salty is a free agent after 2013 the team will need to weigh his demands and what else is on the market.
photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

There are plenty of players in their early 30's who go on the market this offseason who would make this an interesting choice.  According to the MLB Trade Rumors free agent list the following catchers are entering free agency:

Henry Blanco (42)
John Buck (33)
Ramon Hernandez (38)
Brian McCann (30)
Jose Molina (38)
Dioner Navarro (30)
Wil Nieves (36)
Miguel Olivo (35)
Ronny Paulino (33)
Brayan Pena (32)
A.J. Pierzynski (37)
Humberto Quintero (34)
Carlos Ruiz (35)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (29)
Kelly Shoppach (34)
Geovany Soto (31)
Kurt Suzuki (30) - $8.5MM club option with a $650K buyout
Yorvit Torrealba (35)
Three names jump out at me.  Brian McCann, Geovany Soto and Kurt Suzuki.  Suzuki and Soto are probably best viewed as buy low options since they have been poor the past two seasons and you would be better off going with David Ross and Ryan Lavarnway into next season.  Also Suzuki has an option, which could be used to retain him for 2014.

Brian McCann

That leaves Brian McCann who seems to have been around much longer, but is only a year older than Salty.  So age isn't a huge factor although McCann does have nearly twice as many games played with plenty more miles on his knees behind the plate in major league games.

McCann has shown some signs of decline these past two years, but still topping 20 homers and a .450 SLG every season except his one down year in 2011.  In eight seasons played (ignoring small sample of 2005) McCann has totaled 27.2 fWAR, which is about 3.4 fWAR per season.  His peak seasons came from 2006 to 2011 with fWAR totals of 4.3, 1.9, 5.0, 3.8, 4.4 and 3.4.

This season McCann has continued to strikeout about 10 percent of the time and walk about 16 percent.  Both of those are near career averages.  His power has been near his best level with an ISO of .214 (career .197).  No huge decline in his hitting although his games played numbers are down.

His problem is he's dealing with knee issues and seen only 365 at bats this season so far.  Knee problems in a catcher are never a good sign and anything more than 2 years in contract length would be a concern.  His power and hitting are both worth interest, but health and age are surely a concern for any team looking at McCann to take over their catching duties.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

The Red Sox know best any health or long term issues that Salty may have or could get, but so far he hasn't had any major issues and has many fewer major league innings behind the plate than McCann.

Unlike McCann it has been a longer road for the uber prospect who hadn't totaled an above average season according to fWAR until 2011.  In several trials before this he was playing much like a replacement level player and lost his prospect status.  So after his first solid season in 2011, Salty proved it wasn't a fluke by averaging 2.0 fWAR for the three year period from 2011 to 2013.

Salty strikes out twice as often as McCann with a 30 percent rate and walks about 9 percent of the time.  There should also be some concern after hitting 25 homers last year he's only hit 11 so far this season.  Power was his best skill and this season he's largely counted on an abnormally high BABIP of .360 without the power.


Health is a big question mark when you start showing interest in McCann.  He's also going to be looking to top the $12M per season he made in 2013 with his next contract.  If you roughly estimate his decline at 0.5 fWAR per season now that he is at 31 then he should be worth 3.5 fWAR over the next two years.  Maybe a move to first with the right team would give him more value and health and he might be worth 5 fWAR over two years.

As a catcher I would look for a 2 year deal in the $20M to $22M.  If Mike Napoli leaves and you can spell McCann at first you could push the deal to $27.5M.

As for Saltalamacchia I wouldn't plan on him moving to first and his long term prospects are probably pretty poor.  His short term 2-3 year future though might be worth a shot at the right price.  Over three seasons with decline you could say Salty is worth 3.3 fWAR or about $18M.

Based on this I would definitely kick the tires on McCann and do some work on his health and contract demands.  If he's healthy and willing to take the two or three year deal he might make sense, but if not there is plenty of reason to bring back Salty for a deal of two years.  Would you bring back Salty or try to add McCann and at what price?

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