Ramon Hernandez

The eroding free agent catcher market


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.

The international draft is all about MLB making money and the union selling out non-members

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 13:  A fan flies the Dominican Republic flag during the game against Cuba during Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic on March 13, 2006 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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On Monday we passed along a report that Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are negotiating over an international draft. That report — from ESPN’s Buster Olney — cited competitive balance and the well-being of international free agents as the reasons why they’re pushing for the draft.

We have long doubted those stated motivations and said so again in our post on Monday. But we’re just armchair skeptics when it comes to this. Ben Badler of Baseball America is an expert. Perhaps the foremost expert on international baseball, international signings and the like. Today he writes about a would-be international draft and he tears MLB, the MLBPA and their surrogates in the media to shreds with respect to their talking points.

Of course Badler is a nice guy so “tearing to shreds” is probably putting it too harshly. Maybe it’s better to say that he systematically dismantles the stated rationale for the international draft and makes plan what’s really going on: MLB is looking to save money and the players are looking to sell out non-union members to further their own bargaining position:

Major League Baseball has long wanted an international draft. The driving force behind implementing an international draft is for owners to control their labor costs by paying less money to international amateur players, allowing owners to keep more of that money . . . the players’ association doesn’t care about international amateur players as anything more than a bargaining chip. It’s nothing discriminatory against foreign players, it’s just that the union looks out for players on 40-man rosters. So international players, draft picks in the United States and minor leaguers who make less than $10,000 in annual salary get their rights sold out by the union, which in exchange can negotiate items like a higher major league minimum salary, adjustments to the Super 2 rules or modifying draft pick compensation attached to free agent signings.

Badler then walks through the process of how players are discovered, scouted and signed in Latin America and explains, quite convincingly, how MLB’s international draft and, indeed, its fundamental approach to amateurs in Latin America is lacking.

Read this. Then, every time a U.S.-based writer with MLB sources talks about the international draft, ask whether they know something Ben Badler doesn’t or, alternatively, whether they’re carrying water for either the league or the union.

President Bill Murray speaks about the Cubs from the White House

CHICAGO - APRIL 12:  Celebrity Bill Murray clowns around with Chicago media before the opening day game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 12, 2004 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Pirates defeated the Cubs 13-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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I don’t know why Bill Murray is in Washington today. I don’t know why he’s at the White House. But I do know that he was there in Chicago Cubs gear, standing at the lectern in the press briefing room, voicing his full confidence in the Cubs prevailing in the NLCS, despite the fact that Clayton Kershaw is going for the Dodgers tomorrow night.

“Too many sticks,” president Murray said of the Cubs lineup. And something about better trees in Illinois.

Four. More. Years.