July 1, 2011

Time To Trade For A Catcher

Most trade discussion in Pittsburgh has centered around the possibility of getting a power bat, with names like Josh Willingham, Ryan Ludwick, and Mike Cuddyer floated as options. While any of those players would undoubtedly improve the Pirates' lineup, adding another catcher is a much more obvious need at this point.

For the first two months of the season, the Pirates fielded one of baseball's best catching tandems with Chris Snyder (.271/.376/.396) and Ryan Doumit (.269/.333/.441) both providing positive offensive contributions. The position is now a black hole in the lineup: since Snyder's injury on June 8, Pirates catchers have gone 9-for-69 with four runs scored, two doubles, a walk, 19 strikeouts, and no RBI for a hideous .130/.143/.159 batting line.

Neil Huntington recently said that the Pirates preferred to wait for their injured players to return rather than overpay for a catcher in trade. Really? Snyder is probably out for the season after back surgery. Doumit is a month away from returning. Jason Jaramillo will start rehabbing his injured wrist in a week or two, but this is the same guy who hit .149/.227/.207 last year. Without a trade, the best case scenario is that the Pirates get zero offense from the position for another month and then rely for the rest of the season on the health of a player who has been on the disabled list eight different times since 2006 and is coming back from a broken ankle.

The terrible production from the catcher spot creates the best opportunity for an upgrade. The difference in production between McKenry and an average MLB catcher is 132 points of OBP and 137 points of slugging percentage. Regardless of who the Pirates trade or how much they spend, unless Honus Wagner is available there's no way to upgrade any other position by that much.

With half the season left and considering the frequency of catcher injuries, it's unlikely that a contender would trade even a backup catcher. But there are 11 teams already out of the race that would likely give up their backup for a marginal prospect. Here are a few players who could be available:

Ivan Rodriguez, Nationals - Pudge's formerly potent bat has declined to typical backup catcher territory, as he's only hitting .215/.276/.336 this year in his age 39 season. But his arm is still strong - he's thrown out 48% of base stealers - and he was durable enough to start 103 games in 2010. He has a World Series ring and would presumably enjoy being in a pennant race in what is probably his final season. At 40-41 the Nationals aren't having a bad season, but they realistically have no shot at overtaking Atlanta or Philadelphia. A series win this weekend would quickly turn the Nats into sellers.

José Molina, Blue Jays - José inexplicably is having his best offensive season at age 36, hitting .301/.381/.441 on the year. His career batting line of .240/.286/.342 is more indicative of his true skills. With J.P. Arencibia establishing himself as a starter, Molina clearly isn't part of the Jays future. We also witnessed with Wednesday's pickoff of Garrett Jones that José has lost nothing off of his arm.

Matt Treanor, Royals - The Royals have actually given Treanor a majority of the playing time, but it's hard to imagine this 35-year-old career backup being part of the next winning Royals team. He's never been able to hit for average but is walking at a career best rate, resulting in a respectable .216/.354/.304 batting line. Matt also has thrown out 30% of base stealers.

Koyie Hill, Cubs - The switch-hitter is not even close to Doumit's class but has a respectable .224/.287/.353 batting line. He's only thrown out 17% of base stealers this year, but has caught 27% for his career. The Cubs should be in full rebuild mode at this point and although Hill at 32 is the youngest player on this list, with Geovany Soto on board they would really have no reason not to jettison Hill for even a marginal prospect.

Obviously none of these names would excite the Pirates fan base - but all would represent major upgrades. Remember, the Pirates got a much better catcher last year for D.J. Carrasco, Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby. The Pirates so far are contending by accident in 2011. For a general manager who seems reluctant to swing a big deal at this point, a low-profile addition of a legitimate major league catcher would at least represent a start towards a real attempt to win this division.

No comments:

Post a Comment