About a month ago, John discussed the mission for the team to find a useful catcher for 2012 coming to the conclusion that the in-house options are uninspiring to say the least especially as Tony Sanchez appears to be at least a year away, if not more, after a weak season in AA (.241/.340/.318). The upside of Sanchez’s 2011 would be that he played twice as many games as last year’s 59, but he barely out-produced his counting stats adding just a home run and nine RBIs to his 2010 totals of four and 35, respectively.
The major league team once again saw Ryan Doumit tantalize when he played (.360 wOBA), but he had his second 75-game season in three years and fifth sub-85 game season in his seven year career. He simply cannot be relied upon and even if he is brought back as a free agent this offseason, reinforcements will need to be on hand. John covered the organization options, but what about looking elsewhere? Might the team be best served looking to the non-Doumit free agent market for primary backstop?
The best name on the thin list of free agent options is Yadier Molina, but he has a club option for seven million (a raise of 1.75 million from 2011) which the Cards will almost certainly pick up on the heels of Molina’s best year ever in which he has established or matched career highs in home runs, hits, runs scored, runs driven in, doubles and all three triple slash numbers: average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Either Doumit or the guy the Pirates might want to target are next on the list and then there is a massive drop to guys who are no better than the Mike McKenrys and Chris Snyders of the world. That target player is Cincinnati Red Ramon Hernandez. At 35, he isn’t someone who will need or could really command a long-term deal that would cut off Sanchez, assuming he does emerge as the future catcher in the next year or two.
Despite his strong season (.339 wOBA, 6th among NL catchers w/300+ PAs), there isn’t a strong impetus to keep him around in the Queen City because they Ryan Hanigan as a veteran presence and 23-year old Devin Mesoraco as the future star. The 2007 first round pick has struggled in a cup of coffee with the Reds this year (.634 OPS), but he acquitted himself quite well in 120 games at AAA-Louisville and they don’t need him to be “the guy” right away in 2012. Not only that, but they also have 22-year old and 2010 first round pick Yasmani Grandal blazing his way through the minor leagues with extended stints at High-A (56 games) and AA (45 games) as well as a brief stop at AAA (4 games).
Hernandez hasn’t played more than 100 games in any of the last three seasons, but that has been by design the last two years and his bat has benefitted from the timeshare with Hanigan. After a down 2009, he has had nearly identical seasons in 2010 and 2011 with .350 and .339 wOBA totals, respectively, hitting .297 a year ago and .283 this year. He has hit five more home runs this year (12) than he did last year, but his extra-base hit totals have been at 26 and 25 so basically a few more of his doubles cleared the wall this year as opposed to a legitimate power spike.
He has made three million dollars each of the last two years which is far less than Doumit or Snyder would make if either of their club options were picked up (and they won’t be). As John mentioned, Snyder might be worth bringing back if his health checks out and he’s willing to take a good bit less than his 6.75 million dollar option. Pairing Hernandez and Snyder, could work out really well and finally give the Pirates a full season of plus production at the catcher spot in the lineup.
Just to show you how grim the rest of the free agent market is at catcher, the top remaining names on the list include: Rod Barajas, Jose Molina, Brian Schneider, Matt Treanor, Kelly Shoppach and Ramon Castro.