Free Agency Preview: Catchers

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b molina.jpgThis is part one in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agents, trade candidates and non-tender possibilities. I’ll be making predictions for the key free agents, but try not to take them too awfully seriously. The catchers are up first.
Bengie Molina (Giants) – While his stock appears to be down a bit, Molina still stands out as the top catcher available in free agency and should command a multiyear deal as a result. He’s hit between .265 and .295 with 15-20 homers in five straight seasons, and that kind of consistency will be valued, even by the teams that recognize his brutal OBP, not to mention his total lack of speed, makes him a weak option in the middle of the lineup. I count eight teams in the market for a starting catcher: the Astros, Blue Jays, Brewers, Giants, Mariners, Mets, Reds and Royals. Of the group, Seattle and San Francisco are the only clubs at all likely to stay in house. A return to the Giants is likely out for Molina unless a multiyear offer fails to materialize. They’re not going to want to block Buster Posey behind 2010. Prediction: Mets – two years, $11 million
Miguel Olivo (Royals) – Olivo had a career year, finishing with 23 homers and a 781 OPS, and the Royals still weren’t interested in bringing him back. It says a lot about him as a player. Olivo swings at everything, and it’s gotten him a .278 career OBP. He’s also frustrated his employers with his inconsistency behind the plate. He has the tools of a quality defensive catcher, but he’s awfully erratic. On the plus side, he really does have the power to hit 20 homers annually for a couple of more years. That skill figures to land him a starting job and perhaps a two-year deal. Prediction: Astros – one year, $5 million
Ramon Hernandez (Reds) – Declining Hernandez’s $8.5 million option was an easy call, but the Reds are interested in re-signing the 33-year-old, even though he hit an unimpressive .258/.336/.362 and played in only 81 games in his first season with the club. Hernandez would be a reasonable investment at half of the option price, and he’s not at all likely to get a multiyear deal after such a down year. He hasn’t been an above average catcher since 2006, but in such a weak field, he still seems like one of the better choices out there. Prediction: Reds – one year, $4 million
Yorvit Torrealba (Rockies) – The Rockies offered Torrealba a two-year deal to stick around as a part-timer, but he’s decided to explore his options. After all, even though Torrealba won back his old job in the second half, Chris Iannetta still figures to be the Rockies’ long-term catcher. Torrealba is a fine choice to start 60-70 games per year, but to push him beyond that would be to ask for trouble. He’s likely a plan B for a bunch of teams this winter. Prediction: Giants – one year, $3 million
Rod Barajas (Blue Jays) – The 19 homers and 71 RBI that Barajas produced in 2009 would have drawn more oohs and aahs in free agency if he wasn’t so similar yet inferior to Molina and Olivo offensively. Fortunately, he does rate as the best defensive catcher of the likely starters available in free agency. The Jays are kicking around the idea of bringing him back, though their interest in Chris Snyder suggested that Barajas is on the backburner. The 34-year-old seems just about perfect for Kansas City. Prediction: Royals – one year, $2.5 million
Ivan Rodriguez (Rangers) – After a nice August, Pudge ended up just as unproductive with the Rangers as he did in his four months with the Astros to begin 2009. In fact, he finished with OPSs in the 660s in both stops. Rodriguez is a future Hall of Famer, but at this point, it’s fine to think of him as Barajas without the power. Prediction: Rangers – one year, $1.5 million
Other free agents: Brian Schneider (Mets), Jason Kendall (Brewers), Gregg Zaun (Rays), Ramon Castro (White Sox), Jose Molina (Yankees), Josh Bard (Nationals), Henry Blanco (Padres), Brad Ausmus (Dodgers), Mike Redmond (Twins), Jason LaRue (Cardinals), Michael Barrett (Blue Jays), Chris Coste (Astros), Paul Bako (Phillies), Vance Wilson (Royals), Matt Treanor (Tigers), Chad Moeller (Orioles), Kevin Cash (Yankees), Jamie Burke (Nationals), Eliezer Alfonzo (Padres), Corky Miller (Reds), Mike Rabelo (Marlins), Eric Munson (Athletics), Rob Bowen (FA), Sal Fasano (Rockies), Paul Phillips (Rockies), Wilkin Castillo (Reds), Robby Hammock (Orioles)
Schneider and Kendall remain candidates to land starting jobs, no matter how much they’ve declined. Perhaps the Royals will bite, or the Mariners or Giants could latch on to one to serve as a bridge to the younger options. … Zaun and Castro are the cream of the backup crop. Jose Molina could also be viewed as part of that group, but it’d be a surprise if the Yankees didn’t bring him back. … Besides the Yankees, teams likely to sign backups include the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Rays, Rockies and White Sox. … Barrett can’t be completely forgotten about, but a lost 2009 due to injury probably means that he’ll have to head to the minors in an attempt to work his way back.
Trade candidates: Russell Martin (Dodgers), Mike Napoli (Angels), Ryan Doumit (Pirates), Kelly Shoppach (Indians), Gerald Laird (Tigers), Dioner Navarro (Rays), Chris Snyder (Diamondbacks), Taylor Teagarden (Rangers), Ronny Paulino (Marlins), Landon Powell (Athletics), Lou Marson (Indians), Bryan Anderson (Cardinals), J.R. Towles (Astros), Shawn Riggans (Rays), George Kottaras (Red Sox), Dusty Brown (Red Sox), Max Ramirez (Rangers), John Jaso (Rays), Clint Sammons (Braves), Robinzon Diaz (Pirates), Wyatt Toregas (Indians), Matt Pagnozzi (Cardinals)
It’d be an extreme case of selling low if the Dodgers parted with Martin now, and for what it’s worth, there’s been nothing recently to suggest it might happen. Oddly, the organization seems happier with him now than it did following his far superior 2008 season. … The Angels could keep Napoli and still provide Jeff Mathis with an expanded role if they decline to re-sign Vladimir Guerrero and give Napoli some time at DH. Still, Napoli’s name seems likely to come up, particularly if the Angels go asking the Jays about Roy Halladay.
Doumit seems more likely to go in an in-season deal since his stock is down. … Shoppach is due $2.5 million or so in arbitration, and the Indians could turn to Marson behind the plate. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Shoppach serving as Milwaukee’s catcher on Opening Day. … The Tigers could save money by moving Laird and going with Alex Avila and Dusty Brown behind the plate. … Snyder was nearly traded to Toronto already and almost certainly will go at some point, though perhaps not until spring training. … The Rangers have chosen Jarrod Saltalamacchia over Teagarden as their long-term catcher, though Salty’s shoulder surgery has increased the chances that Teagarden will stick around a little while longer. … I’m assuming that Powell will stay in Oakland as Kurt Suzuki’s backup, but the A’s would listen is someone wants him for an expanded role. He delivered seven homers and seven doubles in 140 at-bats last season.

Non-tender candidates: John Buck (Royals), Humberto Quintero (Astros), Mike Rivera (Brewers), Wil Nieves (Nationals), Raul Chavez (Blue Jays), Dusty Brown (Red Sox), Eli Whiteside (Giants), Ryan Budde (Angels), Jose Lobaton (Rays), Drew Butera (Twins), Luke Carlin (Diamondbacks)
Playing about half as often as usual, Buck quietly hit .247/.299/.484 in 186 at-bats to essentially match Olivo’s production in 2009. Still, the Royals want to blow up their catching situation and aren’t likely to tender him a contract. He’ll land another part-time gig at less than the $2.9 million he earned last season. … No one else here is particularly notable. Quintero and Rivera could keep their backup gigs if the Astros and Brewers, respectively, pick up true starting catchers. Neither is worthy of more than 30-40 starts per year.
2010-11 free agents: Joe Mauer (Twins), Victor Martinez (Red Sox), A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox), Gerald Laird (Tigers), Jason Varitek (Red Sox), John Buck (Royals), David Ross (Braves)
2011 options: N/A
2011-12 free agents: Yadier Molina (Cardinals)*, Jorge Posada (Yankees), Ryan Doumit (Pirates)*, Chris Snyder (Diamondbacks)*, Kelly Shoppach (Indians), Dioner Navarro (Rays)
2012 options: Molina – $7 million ($750,000 buyout), Doumit – $15.5 million option for 2012-13 ($500,000 buyout), Snyder – $6.75 million ($750,000 buyout)

2017 Winter Meetings Preview

Craig Calcaterra
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — The baseball world has descended on the Swan and Dolphin Resort at Disney World for the 2017 Winter Meetings. There’s a lot of work to be done.

The two biggest names on the market — Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton — have found new homes, but so far only 33 of baseball’s 249 free agents have signed, almost all of them minor. Still looking for a home: Yu Darvish, J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, CC Sabathia, Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis, Lance Lynn, Greg Holland and many, many more. In early November we ran down the top free agents, position-by-position, to help you get a jump on who is available and what your team is looking at as it seeks to fill its needs.

It’s not just players looking for homes this week, however. It’s teams looking to make up for their failures in the Ohtani and Stanton derbies. The Cardinals and Giants both went big to get Stanton and came up empty. The Giants were likewise in Ohtani, but no dice. Baseball’s worst team in 2017 is obviously willing to spend some money to improve, and now they will look elsewhere to spend it. The Red Sox weren’t in on those two, but since it’s biggest rival landed Giancarlo Stanton, GM Dave Dombrowski will no doubt be kicking the tires hard on J.D. Martinez or Eric Hosmer to try to keep pace. The Mariners acquired a lot of international pool money in their quest for Ohtani, but they could still use a starting pitcher or two, so perhaps they may look at, say, Jake Arrieta? Lance Lynn? Yu Darvish? Well, they should, but who knows if they will.

Despite the sheer number of available free agents, this is a thin free agent class in terms of talent. That means that, for a team to improve significantly, they may be better served by making a trade. The Marlins already traded Stanton, but their fire sale does not seem to be over. Could they deal the newly-acquired Starlin Castro? Christian Yelich? Marcel Ozuna? Bet on yes, and bet on any team wishing to spend prospects instead of free agent cash to take what Miami is unloading. Other potential trade candidates: Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, Rays starter Chris Archer and third baseman Evan Longoria and Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Trade deals and free agent negotiations take place behind closed doors at the Swan and Dolphin. One of the major public activities of the Winter Meetings is when all 30 of the managers meet and greet the press. This year there are six new men at the helm: Dave Martinez in Washington, Mickey Callaway with the Mets, Gabe Kapler — Baseball’s Most Handsome Manager — in Philly, Alex Cora in Boston, Aaron Boone with the Yankees and Rob Gardenhire with the Tigers. I’ll be in the scrum for a lot of these guys — they do them two at a time so I can’t see everyone — and will let you know if they say anything fun. Or if any of them slug me for saying that they’re ugly.

Outside of the transactions and the Hall of Fame stuff, we have the more mundane Winter Meetings business. Indeed, the vast majority of the people at the Meetings aren’t there for transactions. They’re there to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball like any other industry convention. Ever year we hear about a rule change or a proposal for future rule changes at the Meetings. The big one everyone is talking about this offseason is the possibility of a pitch clock.

The final event of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 8am on Thursday morning. You likely have no idea who most of the players who will be selected are, but here’s a good place to start your research on that. If your team takes someone in the draft, the most important thing to know is that he’ll either be on the big league roster all year or he’ll have to be returned to his original team. Well, they could be stashed on the disabled list with phantom injuries so they won’t have to be returned, but no team would ever do that, would they? Perish the thought.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be done. I’ll be on the scene down here at Disney World, bringing you all the best hot stove business we have to offer and, as usual, some more fun odds and ends from baseball’s biggest offseason event.