Monday, July 10, 2006

Catch(er) as Catch(er) Can

Catcher is one of the toughest positions to fill. Do you go with a catcher that can hit or one with good defensive skills? Or do you get a guy that handles the pitching staff well? It doesn’t seem like there are any (or many) catchers out there that can do all three things well. It also seems like whatever type of catcher you have, another type always looks better.

The Cubs had Damian Miller, who does a good job behind the plate defensively and handles pitchers well, but the Cubs didn’t feel like his offensive numbers were good enough. So they traded him away and brought in Michael Barrett. Barrett is one of the better hitting catchers around, but he is not a particularly strong defensive catcher. Also, rumor has it that he does not handle the pitching staff very well.

Honestly, I don’t know what direction to go with a catcher. There are two guys I would love to have on the Cubs, but I don't think either of them will be available, except through some sort of miracle. These two catchers are Joe Mauer of the Twins and Victor Martinez of the Indians. Let’s take a long at their offensive numbers compared to Barrett.

Michael Barrett – Right/Right, Age 29. Barrett is signed through the 2007 season. He currently earns $3 million per year. Career offensive stats (through 2005 season): .267/.326/.427, 777 hits in 875 games, 79 HR, 351 RBI. 2006 offensive stats (through 7/9/06): .320/.390/.513, 73 hits in 66 games, 9 HR, 32 RBI. Discussion: While the rest of the team has spent the year in a slump, Barrett has been one of the very few bright spots. His offensive numbers are all above his career numbers. In his age 29 season, Barrett appears to be heading toward his best years.

Other back stops:

Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins) – Right/Left, Age 23. Mauer is signed through the 2006 season. He currently earns $400,000 per year. He will not be a FA at the conclusion of the year due to his years of ML service. Career offensive stats (through 2005 season): .323/.369/.471, 285 hits in 242 games, 22 HR, 117 RBI. 2006 offensive stats (through 7/9/06): .378/.446/.535, 108 hits in 76 games, 7 HR, 45 RBI. Discussion: Mauer is realizing the potential the Twins saw in him when he was drafted. He is having a tremendous year and the future looks bright. However, there is a caveat. Catching is the most demanding position in baseball. Mauer is just one play-at-the-plate away from a serious, potentially career altering injury. That’s true of all catchers. So, while he looks like a lock to be a superstar, betting on the future career of a catcher is not smart business.

Victor Martinez (Cleveland Indians) – Right/Switch, Age 27. Martinez is signed through the 2009 season. He currently earns $800,000 per year. He is scheduled to earn $3 million in 2007, $4.25 million in 2008, and $5.7 million in 2009. The Indians have a club option for 2010 for $7 million. Career offensive stats (through 2005 season): .298/.368/.467, 468 hits in 432 games, 56 HR, 265 RBI. 2006 offensive stats (through 7/9/06): .316/.381/.486, 99 hits in 83 games, 11 HR, 56 RBI. Discussion: Martinez is the second best hitting catcher in the AL behind Mauer. Going into the All-Star break, he had hit .475 over the previous 10 games. There’s no doubt about it, Martinez is a stud. But it would take a miracle for him to ever end up a Cub.

Discussion: While I would rather have Joe Mauer than Michael Barrett, I recognize that Barrett is still a pretty good option. There are rumors floating around about a trade with the Blue Jays that would involve Barrett. I don’t know if the trade would bring Bengie Molina to the Cubs, but I can’t imagine that Toronto would want both Barrett and Molina. Between the two, I think I’d rather stick with Barrett.

My decree is:

1) Joe Mauer
2) Michael Barrett


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