This offseason, the one area of the free-agent market that intrigued me aside from where the best player on the planet would land was the backstop. I’ve already written about how slim the pickings are at the catching position, so I won’t go into too much detail, but basically, it looked rife for some terrible contracts. Prior to the month of October, there was a decent number of guys who had a solid resume. Then the Tigers exercised their $13 million option on Pudge Rodriguez. Then you know what happened?

Actual sanity.

I’ll give you all a moment to soak that in.

We good? Let’s go on.

It’s not exactly “edgy” to criticize GMs and owners on their excessive spending habits. It’s simply something to which we’ve grown accustomed. But so far this offseason, I have to give them credit overall. At least when it comes to dealing with the catching market, they’ve collectively drawn a line.

Jason LaRue signed for one-year at $850K with the Cardinals. The Mets retained Ramon Castro for 2 years at $4.6 million, then for one reason or other the reported deal they had with Yorvit Torrealba never happened. Instead of dipping into the market, the Mets dealt the unwelcome Guillermo Mota to Milwaukee for Johnny Estrada, who has one more year before he becomes a free agent. In response, the Brew Crew (and this is one that really surprised me) signed Jason Kendall for a $4.25 million one-year contract. While we can argue as to whether or not any of these transactions will help their respective teams, I think we can collectively agree that these are actually rational.

The only deal that gives me pause (and it’s a pretty big pause, but still) was naturally the Yankees giving Jorge Posada a 4-year $52.4 million deal. But given the season he just had, and the fact that it’s the Yankees we’re talking about, it can at least be explained.

With one-year commitments for Pudge, Estrada, Kendall and LaRue, teams have given themselves some serious future flexibility. We all know how difficult it is to find a catcher who can actually stay healthy and productive for more than five years. It simply doesn’t happen all that often given the nature of the position. So when such an option isn’t available, I find it reassuring that that even in today’s market people aren’t pushing the panic button. GMs who lack a franchise backstop have seemingly resigned themselves to the fact that they’re not going to get much from their catchers. This is a good thing, I think. So I feel compelled to tip my cap. This way, I won’t feel as bad the next time I rip them.

10 Responses to “A Pleasant Surprise in the Catching Market”

  1. Nick Kapur says:

    I can’t help wondering if the weight clause maybe isn’t little more than a face saving measure. If we recall, Schilling said in spring training last year that he would only play for $13 million this coming season. And lo and behold, adding the weight clause brings the total to exactly 13 million (along with the easily reachable incentives). Without knowing the actual weight targets set, it’s immossible to say for sure, but I wonder how realistic those targets actually are, or if Schilling actually even intends to try to meet them.

  2. Right, Nick. Because, it would have been embarrassing to sign a contract for less than $13 million, but not at all embarrassing to forfeit $4 million due to fatness.

  3. Nick Kapur says:

    The only one I think was really lame was the Jason Kendall signing. I mean, is that guy even a league average catcher anymore? His hitting has declined precipitously of late, and it would be one thing if he were known for his defense or something, but Kendall has always been known as a weak-armed, hit-first, field-second type catcher.

    And that vesting clause? Ouch. I think the Brewers would have been waaaay better off keeping Johnny Estrada, who probably just had an off-year, or at the very least don’t pay Kendall $5 million when you can find any number of minor league backstops who could equal his production.

  4. I don’t think it’s as bad as you’re making it seem though, Nick. Yes, both you and I know that Kendall isn’t a good catcher. But unless I’ve horrendously underestimatated how low his reputation has fallen among MLB execs, I still expected him to be able to get a guaranteed multi-year deal in the $5m range. Now obviously he isn’t worth it. But with the catching market so weak, I thought Kendall could get someone to bite based on his past “accomplishments”. I was wrong. But even with that vesting option it isn’t all that bad. I was really expecting 3-year/$15m. In comparison, the actuality has been much better. At max it’s a 2-year deal worth less than $10m. I still wouldn’t want the guy on my team even at that price, but I admittedly often fail to understand “value” from the perspective of team execs.

  5. It’s hard to understand why Milwaukee, a “small” market team on a limited budget would commit that much money to Kendall. I suppose they figure they can afford him because they haven’t had to pay a lot of their goood young players yet. He really looked finished in his stint with the Cubs the last half of the season. He simply can’t throw out anyone at this point. Hard to believe that their farm system doesn’t have anyone better. Estrada fell out of favor with Yost but he isn’t anywhere near the kind of bad Kendall is.

  6. Coley Ward says:

    I agree. Sarah talks about how important intangibles are, but are they worth $4.25 million? Because I know the Brewers aren’t paying Kendall to hit or throw, so they must be paying him for his character (and game-calling skills, which are admittedly important).

  7. OK, so quickly checked some numbers. Unless I somehow screwed this up, as a whole, MLB catchers threw out 25.6% of would-be base stealers in 2007. Had Kendall at least hit that mark, he would have thrown out 34 guys instead of 20. So that’s 14 extra bases that an average catcher could have theoretically prevented. To put this into perspective, it’s the difference between a hitter who slugs .420 and another who slugs .443 (over 600 ABs). Does that make sense?

    Basically, the difference isn’t that big, but it’s not negligible either. That’s still 14 extra bases that Kendall’s bat can’t cover. Which probably makes him a below average catcher overall.

    But here’s something that I don’t know – how good are/were the Oakland-Cubs pitchers at keeping runners honest? How quick/slow were they to the plate?

  8. With the Cubs Kendall only threw out 5 of 57 baserunners which was 9%. The other 4 catchers they used got 15 of 70 for 21%. These other 4 catchers were catching the same pitchers so that should account for any deficiency by pitchers to hold runners on. Offensively he doesn’t strike out a lot but he isn’t going to get many extra base hits or RBI. Milwaukee lost their closer and their set-up man I would think the 4.5 million would have been better spent filling those holes. I would also add that Milwaukee was already a shaky defensive club and adding a poor defensive catcher certainly won’t help.

  9. Let’s see… Prince, Weeks, Hardy and Braun with Jenkins, Hall, and Hart… Yeah. Yeah, you\’re right, that\’s a terrible defense. I mean, did anyone actually think that putting Bill Hall in center was a good idea? Well, you may be right, Melissa. I still don\’t think it was a terrible deal given the fact that Milwaukee doesn\’t have a viable option in the minors, but you raise a good point.

  10. They may feel he’s too old to go every day but Damian Miller is much better defensively. Also they declined to pick up Geoff Jenkins option for 08.

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