In my most recent post, I focused on the starting pitching market available via the free agent market. The Brewers have some holes to fill in order to catch the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs talent in 2010. One of those holes is behind the plate.
This season was Jason Kendall's second in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform. After a good season with the glove in 2008, Kendall has completely regressed this season. During both of his two seasons he has struggled mightily with the bat. This season, Kendall has posted a .239/.329/.295/.624 line (avg/obp/slug/ops) in 435 at bats. That line belongs nowhere near the major leagues, let alone starting everyday. The catching spot is something that needs to be improved to close the gap in the NL Central.
With Kendall becoming a free agent at seasons end, what can the Brewers do in order to improve? Well, step one is going to be cutting ties with him. Kendall was once an amazing player in Pittsburgh, but those days are behind him. The way Kendall has regressed year after year should only be more proof to the Brewers of what to expect in 2010.
The internal options the Brewers have aren't much more appealing. Mike Rivera should not be an everyday catcher. In the minors, the Brewers have some options in Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy. After his amazing 2008 in AA, Salome has struggled at AAA this season. He will be option down the road, but next season he won't be ready. Lucroy has looked very good at AA this season posting an OBP of .380 and a OPS of .800. Even so, Lucroy, like Salome, will not be ready next season.
Rather than discussing the endless trade rumors that are often thrown around, I am going to focus on what will be available in free agency. Below is a list of free agent catchers.
Michael Barrett (club option)
Ramon Hernandez ($8.5M club option that won't be exercised)
Miguel Olivo ($3.25M mutual option)
Yorvit Torrealba ($4M mutual option)
Jason Varitek ($5M club option)
Gregg Zaun ($2M club option)
One name on that list that has been thrown around is Bengie Molina. Molina is the kind of player that would be a huge mistake. To the common fan, his 18 HR's and 75 RBI's look appealing, but one look at his OBP screams stay away. He currently sports a .280 OBP, batiing cleanup for the San Francisco Giants. His .425 slugging % is good for a catcher, but he should never be batting fourth in any lineup. No wonder the Giants rank 27th in runs scored. If you're looking for a reference point to describe Molina, think Johnny Estrada during his one season in Milwaukee. Their numbers are almost identical. Undoubtedly, some GM is going to overpay for Molina and give his a multi-year deal. Say what you will about Doug Melvin, but he rarely makes those kind of mistakes.
Going through the catchers, I keep thinking just how bad this list is. There are really multiple options on that list that look all that appealing. However, the one name that could work would be Ramon Castro. Castro has struggled since being traded to the White Sox this season, but that has only been in 68 at bats. He has shown a decent ability to get on base, while posting above average power numbers for a catcher. Along with that, Castro is pretty good defensively. This season he has thrown out 17 of 47 would be base stealers. That line is good for a 36% throw out % and is much better than the 20% currently given by Kendall.
Castro was considered expendable by the Mets earlier this season when they fell in love with Omir Santos after a good couple of at bats. When his name was being thrown around in trade rumors, I thought the Brewers should pounce.
Castro will not be the next Joe Mauer, but he could provide a stop-gap at catcher while Lucroy and Salome continue to progress through the minor leagues. I don't think it is out of the question to think Castro could post a line of .250/.325/.415/.740 for the Brewers next season, while playing above average defense. He would come cheaply to the Brewers next season. I highly doubt the market for Castro will be off the charts. It is not inconceivable to think that a one year deal worth around $2 million could get it done.
With that being said, this list should be evidence of how important developing a young catcher is. It gives the Twins such a huge advantage to pencil Joe Mauer everyday into a spot that rarely yields much offensive production. Hopefully Lucroy and Salome will develop into solid catchers, but that will not happen this offseason. The Brewers need to bridge the gap and the best option that I can see would be Castro. That is, unless a good trade offer comes around.