The eroding free agent catcher market

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Thursday saw the fifth free agent catcher come off the board with the Tigers’ signing Gerald Laird and perhaps a sixth, with Jose Molina and the Rays reportedly nearing an agreement.

Here’s the list of those off the market:

Rod Barajas: Pirates – one year, $4 million
Henry Blanco: D’Backs – one year, $1.2 million
Matt Treanor: Dodgers: one year, $1 million
Brian Schneider: Phillies – one year, $800,000
Gerald Laird: Tigers – one year

And here is who is left. I’m putting them in the order I ranked them in the top 111 free agents:

48. Ramon Hernandez
63. Ryan Doumit
81. Chris Snyder
90. Jason Varitek
99. Kelly Shoppach
107. Ivan Rodriguez
Jose Molina
Ramon Castro
Jason Kendall
Dioner Navarro
J.R. Towles
Rob Johnson
Josh Bard
Jake Fox

Basically, that’s one solid starting catcher in Hernandez, one potentially useful catcher-first baseman in Doumit, one solid regular coming off back surgery in Snyder, five decent backups from Varitek to Castro and then several guys who aren’t great bets to open next season on a major league roster. Kendall is in that last group; he’s expected to miss most or all of next season after his latest shoulder surgery.

Now, who might be in the market for a catcher:

Starter: Tampa Bay, Los Angeles (AL)
Backup: Boston, Toronto, Baltimore, Chicago (AL), Kansas City, Minnesota, Oakland, Seattle, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Chicago (NL), Houston, San Diego

Tampa Bay could just go with a Molina-John Jaso combination now, though I think the Rays would be a lot better off with Hernandez and it’s not like he’d break the budget. The Rays also should consider making a run at Colorado’s Chris Iannetta, though there’s little indication that it will happen.

If the Rays are content with Molina and Jaso, then Hernandez might fall into the Angels’ laps. Alternatively, perhaps the Blue Jays, Twins or Padres could lure Hernandez as a catcher/first baseman/designated hitter. That’s supposed to be Doumit’s likely role, but Hernandez also has the bat to pull it off. The Angels do have Hank Conger, so it’s not clear that they’ll go all out for a catcher.

Snyder is trickier, because while he’s a quality player if healthy, he’s not someone any team can count on right now. Most of the teams looking for backups will probably want someone safer. Boston might work. The Red Sox have Ryan Lavarnway ready offensively, but they’re not sure about his glove just yet.

Of course, Varitek could also return to Boston. But he’d also make sense with Theo Epstein’s new team as a backup for Geovany Soto.

Shoppach would be a nice fit for a team with a lefty swinging catcher. I thought Detroit was a great fit there. Since the Tigers chose Gerald Laird instead, Minnesota could be a possibility. The White Sox are another possible fit if they don’t see Tyler Flowers working out.

Martin Maldonado and Willson Contreras say they’re willing to pay fines rather than follow new mound visit rule

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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On Monday, Major League Baseball announced some changes aimed at improving the game’s pace of play, something that has been a pet cause for commissioner Rob Manfred. Among the changes was a limit on mound visits whether from managers and coaches, the catcher, or other defenders. Each team will have six non-pitching change mound visits per game and one additional visit each inning in extra innings. Craig wrote more in depth on the changes here if you happened to miss it.

Angels catcher Martin Maldonado says he is going to do what’s necessary to stay on the same page with his pitchers. Via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, Maldonado said, “If the game is on the line, I’m going to go out there. If we’re at six [visits], and it’s going to be the seventh, I’m going to go out there, even if I have to pay a fine. I’m there for the pitchers.”

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said as much on Tuesday. Per Josh Frydman of WGN News, Contreras said, “What about if you have a tight game and you have to go out there? They can’t say anything about that, that’s my team and we just care about wins. If they’re going to fine me about number seven mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Exhibition games haven’t even started yet, but two notable backstops — the lesser-known Maldonado won a Gold Glove last year — are clearly not happy with the rule change. As Craig alluded to in his article yesterday, arguments between catchers and umpires (and, subsequently, managers and umpires) are probably going to become more frequent, which would likely end up nullifying any pace of play improvements.

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Update (4:43 PM ET): In response to this, Manfred said that if a catcher or coach made a seventh mound visit, there would have to be a pitching change (via Fletcher). However, chief baseball officer Joe Torre said (via SB Nation’s Eric Stephen) that the seventh visit cannot trigger a pitching change. The umpire would simply have to prevent the seventh mound visit.