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.

Which teams improved and declined the most in 2015?

Joe Maddon

I was curious about which MLB teams changed their fortunes the most this season compared to last year, so I crunched the numbers.

First, here are the biggest win total improvements from 2014 to 2015:

+24 Cubs
+21 Rangers
+16 Astros
+15 Diamondbacks
+13 Twins
+11 Mets
+10 Blue Jays
+10 Cardinals
+10 Pirates

The top five teams on the biggest-improvement list all had managers in their first season on the job, led by Joe Maddon joining the Cubs after tons of success with the Rays. Also worth noting: Of the nine teams with the biggest win total improvement, eight made the playoffs. Only the Twins improved to double-digit games and still failed to make the playoffs.

Now, here are the biggest win total declines from 2014 to 2015:

-20 Athletics
-16 Tigers
-15 Orioles
-14 Brewers
-13 Nationals
-13 Angels
-12 Braves
-12 Reds
-11 Mariners

Not surprisingly, a whole lot of those teams have changed managers, general managers, or both. And a couple more may still do so before the offseason gets underway. Oakland retained manager Bob Melvin despite an MLB-high 20-win dropoff and just promoted Billy Beane from general manager to vice president of baseball operations.

MLB games were six minutes shorter this year

Pitch Clock
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According to STATS, INC., the average game in 2015 was 2 hours, 56 minutes. That’s six minutes faster than games in 2014.

The gains came in the first half, when games averaged 2:53. Second half games averaged three hours even. One can probably thank the expanded rosters in September for that, as games then see many more pitching changes. Of course, it’s likely that second half games were faster in 2015 than 2014 as well given the rules changes.

Those changes: agreement to enforce the rule requiring a hitter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and the installation of clocks timing pitching changes and between-inning breaks in ever ballpark.

It remains to be seen if MLB stays satisfied with that modest improvement or if chooses to go the way Triple-A and Double-A leagues did. They installed 20-second pitch clocks and started penalizing violators with balls and strikes. Triple-A’s two leagues, the International and Pacific Leagues, saw game-time decreases by 13 and 16 minutes, respectively.