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)

Trevor Bauer says his finger will be OK for the World Series

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 17:  Trevor Bauer #47 of the Cleveland Indians walks back to the dugout after being relieved due to his cut pinky finger in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during game three of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians starter Trevor Bauer said he expects his sliced right pinkie to heal in time for the World Series.

Bauer, of course, is a drone hobbyist and hurt his finger while fixing a drone. By the time he’ll have to pitch again he will have had nine days since his last, bloody start in ALCS Game 3. Yesterday he said “I’ll be ready to pitch in the World Series whenever they need me. I’m doing everything I can and I’ll be back out there for sure.”

Bauer reportedly suggested that Indians trainers cauterize his finger on Monday. They declined. Which is something Bauer should probably thank them for.

It’s time for Major League Baseball to take a stand on Chief Wahoo

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 06:  A fan holds a sign during game one of the American League Divison Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on October 6, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cleveland Indians are in the World Series. Come Tuesday they will be on baseball’s biggest stage — an international stage — for the first time in 19 years. In honor of this occasion, I’d like to know a couple of things:

  • Does Major League Baseball believe that Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature?
  • If not, why not?
  • If so, does Major League Baseball think it appropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as its logo?
  • If Wahoo is a racist caricature and if it’s inappropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as a logo what, if anything, does MLB plan to do about Chief Wahoo?

At the outset, I’ll say what should not come as a surprise to any of you: I believe that Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature. I’ve argued it ad nauseum over the years and really don’t wish to mount that argument once again. Mostly because I think the notion that Chief Wahoo is racist is indisputable. Also, because those who do not wish to see the Indians abandon that logo never actually argue that it isn’t racist. Indeed, I’ve not seen a single convincing argument in favor of Wahoo not being racist on his own merits. Oh sure, there are lots of deflections (A logo isn’t important! Tradition is tradition!; It’s just sports!; What about that other racist logo?! My quarter-Cherokee grandma says she’s fine with it!) but no one has once made even half a case that that red-faced, big-toothed, hook-nosed, feather-wearing abomination is not, in fact, a racially insensitive caricature. I don’t think such an argument could be made, actually.

So that’s not what I’m on about here. Rather, I’m interested in how this racist caricature can be eliminated from the sport I love and what has prevented it from happening to date. That’s a very different question, and it’s one that has little if anything to do with accusations of racism or good guys and bad guys. It has everything to do with institutions and inertia. And I think it’s time to drill down into that some.

Let us stipulate that the Cleveland Indians, as an organization, are not a bunch of racists. I don’t believe that for a second. They, like every other sports team, have a history and, for lots of reasons, the Indians history comes with Chief Wahoo packed in the baggage. While the Indians have made efforts over the years to diminish Wahoo, those efforts have not taken. The most likely reason for that is fear of fan backlash. Fans who, even if they themselves are not racists either, do what all sports fans do and root from a primarily emotional place, where real-world questions like “is what I’m wearing racially offensive?” are not permitted to intrude. It’s not just writers they want to stick to sports. They stick to sports themselves and, with a strong assist from cognitive dissonance, their conception of sports involves a Chief Wahoo cap and arm patch.

So, you’re running the Indians. Even when you win your division you don’t draw well, and thus the LAST thing you want to do is anger or alienate your most passionate fans. Of course you don’t get rid of that logo. Doing so would take some pretty considerable moral and ethical courage. Or, at the very least, moral and ethical courage in quantities that outweigh the short term P.R. and financial motives of a for-profit business, and that’s quite a bit. So let us stipulate two things, actually: (1) The Indians are not a bunch of racists; and (2) Even if they’re not, they’re not, on their own, going to get rid of Chief Wahoo. If they were going to, they would’ve done it by now.

Which is why I turn to Major League Baseball. If the Indians themselves are not going to do the right thing and eliminate Chief Wahoo, Major League Baseball should.

At this point I’ll say something which will probably surprise a lot of you: I’m not crazy. I may stand up on soapboxes and rant and rave about any little thing that crosses my mind, but I am, at heart, a realist. I know how large and sophisticated organizations work and I know that Major League Baseball is a large and sophisticated organization. It cannot snap its fingers and make whatever crazy, soapbox-standing bloggers want to have happen happen, even if wanted to (note: it does not want to). There are rules and norms and politics to even the most pedestrian of issues that cross Rob Manfred’s desk, and Chief Wahoo is not a pedestrian issue. It’s a controversial one that lends itself to passion and bad press and those are the hardest things an organization like MLB has to deal with. Indeed, it would prefer not to.

Part of that complication is that this is a club matter and clubs, under Major League Baseball’s business model, are mostly their own things and they can do what they please with most things. Certainly things like club identity, logos, colors, uniforms and the like. At most MLB gives final approval on new ideas in these areas, but it does not order clubs to change fonts or logos or mascots that have been in place for decades. “Hey, Orioles? You’re now the ‘Knights’ and your colors are purple and gold. Make it so” is not a memo Rob Manfred is going to write.

There is likely not even a mechanism in place for this. League-wide matters are dealt with via MLB’s constitution, to which all clubs agree, and that usually involves league wide ownership votes. This is not one of those things, though. Thirty club owners are not going to hold a vote about what mascot the Indians can slap on their cap. Large and complex organizations do not eagerly do things for which there is not a formal mechanism to accomplish said things. So, in addition to the historical inertia and the abhorrence of controversial issues and p.r. and the like, you have systemic reasons which make it easier for MLB to not act than to act.

But that does not mean it should not act. I believe it should, and I believe that the only way Major League Baseball will not, eventually, act to abolish Chief Wahoo is if it willfully ignores those questions I posed above. If it ignores, in fact, the very words it uttered just this week when the matter of the Indians name and logo was the subject of an Ontario court hearing:

“Major League Baseball appreciates the concerns of those that find the name and logo of the Cleveland Indians to be offensive.  We would welcome a thoughtful and inclusive dialogue to address these concerns outside the context of litigation.”

To truly be a part of that dialogue, Major League Baseball itself is obligated to state its convictions on the matter. If it is having trouble finding its convictions I will, once again, offer a little guide to help them along:

    • Does Major League Baseball believe that Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature? That’s a pretty simple question. A human being as educated as Rob Manfred and as educated as the hordes of Ivy Leaguers who work for him can plainly and quickly answer if it wished to.
    • If not, why not? Like I said, if they can make a convincing argument that Wahoo isn’t racist it’ll be the first time anyone has done so, but like I also said, these guys are smart, and I bet if anyone can they can. I’ll give them a fair hearing.
    • If MLB does think Wahoo is racist, does Major League Baseball think it appropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as its logo? Based on everything I know about Major League Baseball and its commitment to diversity, inclusion and open-mindedness, it cannot answer this question in the affirmative if it believes Wahoo to be racist.
    • Finally, if Wahoo is a racist caricature and if it’s inappropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as a logo what, if anything, does MLB plan to do about Chief Wahoo?

And there we are. There’s nothing formal in place to make the Indians change, but if Rob Manfred gets to that last question, he can certainly lean on the club. He can make a public statement about it and what is right. Or, he can take a different tack and show the Indians how much merch they’d sell if they got a new logo. It doesn’t matter much. The Commissioner is not omnipotent, but in a matter of conscience that affects only one club, some meetings and phone calls and his power of persuasion could make a big difference here. All the difference, really.

But first Major League Baseball and Commissioner Manfred have to themselves be inspired to act. They have to cease dodging the matter by making reference to the controversy and the feelings it engenders and actually take a position in that controversy. The Indians have shown that they will not act unilaterally, so MLB should, at long last, weigh in itself to force their hand.

Commissioner Manfred will, no doubt, be in Cleveland for the World Series. He will, no doubt, hold a press conference or two. Given the Indians return to the international stage, the usual protests about Chief Wahoo will be louder than they typically are and Commissioner Manfred will be asked about the matter. I believe that he, on behalf of the league, should answer the questions I have posed here and that other journalists will no doubt pose to him in person.

I hope he does. I hope that, rather than once again merely acknowledging a longstanding conversation about a baseball team sporting an abjectly racist logo on its cap in the 21st century, he, on behalf of Major League Baseball, enters the conversation. I hope he does what no one else seems willing or able to do: eliminates Chief Wahoo, now and forever.

Doing so would not be the easy course. It would certainly be easier to dodge these questions than to answer them openly and honestly and to then do what one’s answers to them obligate one to do. But it would be the right thing to do. I suspect Major League Baseball already knows this.