Monday, October 22, 2012
Texas Ten: What is the outlook at catcher?
By Richard Durrett
Editor's Note: We'll spend the next two weeks taking a look at 10 questions that face the Texas Rangers this offseason as they prepare for the 2013 campaign. We call it our "Texas Ten."
Today's question: What does the club do about catcher in 2013?
The catching position was not one of strength at the plate for the club in 2012. Mike Napoli began the season as the starter after his magical second half in 2011, which carried over into a terrific postseason. But Napoli, who talked to the club about a long-term deal in the offseason but never settled on one, couldn't replicate those impressive four months. He dealt with some nagging injuries and ended up on the disabled list, but even when healthy Napoli wasn't consistently comfortable at the plate.
The catcher hit .227 in 108 games. He still managed 24 homers and 56 RBIs, but he also had 125 strikeouts in 352 at-bats (he had 85 strikeouts in 369 at-bats in 2011). After putting up an OBP of .414 in 2011, Napoli dropped to .343 in 2012. He was on the DL with a left quadriceps strain for a little more than a month.
Mike Napoli couldn't duplicate his fantastic finish to 2011 and now will test the free agent market.
With Napoli struggling, manager Ron Washington gave Yorvit Torrealba a chance to earn more playing time. But Torrealba didn't hit much better, meaning the position wasn't offering much at the plate. In an effort to create a spark there, the Rangers traded RHP Jake Brigham to the Chicago Cubs for Geovany Soto at the trade deadline. The hope was that Soto's bat, which was quiet in Chicago, might get going with a new team and a new atmosphere. He had his moments, but Soto hit just .196 with five homers and 25 RBIs while in Texas.
Of course, hitting is only part of a catcher's job. He must work with the pitching staff and call a productive game. And Washington has made it clear that's the No. 1 priority of the position. Soto established a rapport with Yu Darvish and became the pitcher's personal catcher. He also caught most of Ryan Dempster's games since he was familiar with Dempster, another trade deadline pickup, from Chicago.
But catcher is one position the front office must deal with this offseason. Napoli is a free agent and will test the market. He'd like to return, but at what price? The club could offer Napoli a one-year deal with the idea that, under the new CBA, if he signs elsewhere they'd get a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. But that offer might end up being $11 million or so, so it's a tough call. Still, it might make sense for Napoli to do a short-term deal in a place where he's comfortable (Texas) with the hopes of increasing his value after 2013 for a longer deal. Soto is arbitration eligible in 2013, so the club could elect to offer him arbitration and then find a starting catcher to pair with him. Or they could non-tender him and let him go.
The club could then look at free agents or trades. Kelly Shoppach, a local product, has always intrigued me. But is he a starter? What about J.P. Arencibia from the Blue Jays, who could afford to deal a catcher (they've also got Travis d'Arnaud, though that price is likely to be high as he's a top prospect)? The fact that the Blue Jays claimed Bobby Wilson off waivers could certainly signal a willingness to trade one of their catchers, so the Rangers make a logical trade partner. Does A.J. Pierzynski interest anyone? If the Braves don't pick up Brian McCann's option (he's having surgery and might miss the start of the season), what about signing him up as a guy who could play some DH and not catch every day?
Texas needs more offense from the catching position and you can bet that the front office will be looking to do that via trade or free agency.
What would you do at catcher? Do you bring back Napoli or Soto? Do you go in a completely different direction?