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)

Jason Kipnis could join Team Israel for 2017 World Baseball Classic

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians throws during batting practice prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.

For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.

Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.

Rangers to sign James Loney to minor league deal

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: James Loney #28 of the New York Mets tosses to first base against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.

Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.

The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.