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.

Jeffrey Springs, Rays agree to $31 million, 4-year contract

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Left-hander Jeffrey Springs became the first of the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration salaries with their teams to reach a deal, agreeing Wednesday to a $31 million, four-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

The 30-year old was among seven Rays who swapped arbitration figures with the team on Jan. 13. He began last season in the bullpen, transitioned to the starting rotation in May and finished 9-5 with a 2.46 ERA in 33 appearances, including 25 starts. He is 14-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 76 outings – 51 of them in relief – since he was acquired from Boston in February 2021.

Springs gets $4 million this year, $5.25 million in 2024 and $10.5 million in each of the following two seasons. Tampa Bay has a $15 million option for 2027 with a $750,000 buyout.

The 2025 and 2026 salaries can escalate by up to $3.75 million each based on innings in 2023-24 combined: $1.5 million for 300, $1 million for 325, $750,000 for 350 and $500,000 for 375. The `25 and ’26 salaries also can escalate based on finish in Cy Young Award voting in `23 and ’24: $2 million for winning, $1.5 million for finishing second through fifth in the voting and $250,000 for finishing sixth through 10th.

Tampa Bay’s option price could escalate based on Cy Young voting in 2025 and 2026: by $2.5 million for winning, $2 million for finishing second through fifth and $500,000 for sixth through 10th.

Springs would get $45.25 million if the option is exercised, $52.75 million with the option and meeting all innings targets and the maximum if he meetings the innings targets and wins two Cy Youngs.

Springs’ ERA last season was the second lowest in franchise history for a pitcher working a minimum of 100 innings. Former Rays ace Blake Snell compiled 1.89 ERA on the way to winning the 2018 AL Cy Young.

In addition to finishing sixth in the AL in ERA, Springs allowed three runs or fewer in 22 of 25 starts and two runs or fewer 17 times. He joined Tampa Bay’s rotation on May 9, gradually increasing his workload over his next six appearances. Springs was 6-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break.

Arbitration hearings start next week and the Rays remain with the most players scheduled to appear before three-person panels.

Springs had asked for a raise from $947,500 to $3.55 million and had been offered $2.7 million. Tampa remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam, Pete Fairbanks and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.

Tampa Bay also agreed minor league contacts with catcher Gavin Collins and right-hander Jaime Schultz, who will report to major league spring training.

Infielder Austin Shenton and pitchers Anthony Molina and Joe LaSorsa also were invited to big league spring training.