Monday, November 25, 2013

The catching market

Ryan Doumit, seen in a 2012 mound conference, is
seldom mentioned in talk about the Twins catching situation.
Joe Mauer's not a catcher anymore. For the first offseason in more than a decade, the Twins don't know who's their No. 1 backstop.

They have four catchers on the 40-man roster — Ryan Doumit, Eric Fryer, Chris Herrmann and Josmil Pinto — and good reason to shy away from any of them as 100-game starters. This has them prominent in speculation about a fairly rich crop of veteran catchers, which is rapidly dwindling.

With the likes of Brian McCann (five years, $85 million, Yankees) and Carlos Ruiz (three years, $26 million, staying with the Phillies) reaching big-ticket free-agent deals in the past week, and such veteran backstops as Jose Molina, Geovanni Soto and Brayan Pena finding 2014 homes as well, the primary speculation is about Jarrod Saltalamacchia and ex-Twin A.J. Pierzynski.

 My thoughts:

  • Importing a catcher probably means optioning out Pinto to work on his defensive skills. I'm pretty sure he can hit well enough to be a regular major league catcher right now.
  • Pierzynski, who turns 37 next month, is probably a good candidate for a one-year deal. Salty, on the other hand, is likely to at least match Ruiz' deal, and having him block Pinto doesn't make sense — unless the Twins are already convinced that Pinto will never be good enough to be more than a backup.
  • Doumit seems to be overlooked in all this.
The primary argument against Doumit as a regular catcher is, of course, his defense. He's a hit-first backstop — and, as it happens, so are Pierzynski and Saltalamacchia. But Doumit is regarded as less adept than the other two, and he didn't hit to his usual standards in 2013.

A secondary argument — and a good one — is that Doumit, who turns 33 in April, has a track record of injuries. He has just one 100-game season behind the dish in his career, and didn't catch at all in September after returning from an August concussion. He's not a good bet to carry the bulk of the load.

Doumit has one year left on his contract. If the Twins do bring in a established No. 1 catcher, Doumit isn't likely to catch as often as he has since joining Minnesota. If the Twins don't, then I would expect him to share the job with Pinto.

Which is my preference. I suspect Pinto will learn more about catching in the majors — especially with Terry Steinbach on the coaching staff — than in Triple A. The old Yogi Berra line about working early in his career with Bill Dickey — Bill is learning me his experience — applies.

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