CINCINNATI OH - SEPTEMBER 28: Ramon Hernandez #55 of the Cincinnati Reds tags out Hunter Pence #9 of the Houston Astros after he struck out at Great American Ball Park on September 28 2010 in Cincinnati Ohio. The Reds won 3-2 to clinch the NL Central Division title. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Okay. So this season is getting a little dull, to be honest. It's not that I'm not longer enjoying this season by any means, but when September consists of a single playoff race between the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels, it might be time to begin to turn our heads towards the future. It's like turning off the game when your team is up 6-1 in the ninth inning; you might see something crazy if you keep watching, but you'll probably see nothing special.
I'm sure we'll be doing loads of postseason-related stuff here over the next couple months, but for now I wanted to shoot ahead to this winter. It's always fun to speculate on where different players might go, who might be available and the like, so today I'm going to cover essentially all of the catchers worth knowing about that could be on the move this winter.
We'll start with the free agents, but we'll get through trade candidates, one big name to keep an eye on and even some possible sleepers. I'll be doing these for the other positions, too, over the next few weeks, and of course, let me know if you think I'm missing someone in the comments section.
THE FREE AGENTS
Hernandez won't be coming back to Cincinnati with Devin Mesoraco and Ryan Hanigan around, so presumably he'll be starting somewhere else in 2012. Barajas probably won't be returning to LA, and teams tend to be intrigued by his power production.
There are some quality back-ups to be had here. Molina, Castro, Varitek and Blanco have all hit pretty well in part-time duty this season, although you can't really bank on more than 200-300 PA's from any of these guys.
Molina is a lock to have his option exercised and the Pirates will probably retain one of Doumit/Snyder, but Shoppach is likely to be a goner after the season. Snyder would definitely be able to find a full-time job if his option isn't exercised, but it's hard to gauge how teams view Doumit.
THE TRADE CANDIDATES
With Travis d'Arnaud coming up the ladder, the Blue Jays could be interested in dealing the 25-year-old Arencibia to free up space. The Rangers could look into trading Torrealba and go with Mike Napoli and Taylor Teagarden, who's been crushing the ball in Triple-A, at catcher. Kottaras has thrived over the past two years, posting a .220/.307/.421 line in 106 MLB games and a .343/.432/.559 line in 29 AAA games. And with Iannetta, we can never really tell how much the Rockies like him. Maybe this is the time that they'll finally move on from him.
Possible back-ups: John Baker, Ronny Paulino, Jesus Flores, Humberto Quintero, Jason Jaramillo, Eli Whiteside, Francisco Cervelli, Jose Lobaton, Manny Pina, Taylor Teagarden, Konrad Schmidt, Lucas May
Nothing too crazy here. Baker is coming back from injury and is already limited to back-up duty in Florida by John Buck. Paulino may not be a great candidate if the Mets would prefer to retain his services for next season. Teagarden may turn out to be a starter after all, but he likely would have to settle for a back-up role to begin 2012. In the end, all of these guys are ultimately attainable, and each could work in a back-up role.
THE BIG WILD CARD
It's really hard to tell what the Cubs are going to do this offseason. They could end up spending big in an attempt to quickly turn around the big league club's chances, or they could go cheap and focus on rebuilding the organization for the future. If they go the latter route, you have to wonder if they'll consider trading starting catcher Soto.
He could immediately become the top catcher on the market, lending some additional value to one of Chicago's few high-quality assets. Some may be worried about how the 28-year-old has alternated great years with decent ones over the past four seasons, but even in his down years he has the power and patience to be a solid starting catcher. With two more years of team control left that shouldn't cost much more than $11-12 million, he's a relatively cheap piece and one of the few potential impact catchers that could be available.
The Cubs didn't make many moves over the summer, much to my dismay, but they should be one of the teams that makes this offseason particularly interesting.
Wilin Rosario gets all the hype, and he deserves most of it, but the Rockies actually have another solid catching prospect in the 25-year-old Pacheco. After beginning last season in High Single-A, Pacheco impressed the organization enough to have him begin 2011 with Triple-A Colorado Springs. And while it's known as a notorious hitter's environment, Pacheco's solid K/BB numbers stand out far more than his below-average .278/.343/.377 line. He likely will never be a particularly good player, but he should be able to stick as a good back-up for a while.
People haven't seen much of Castillo because the Cubs have been solid behind the plate with Soto and Koyie Hill for so long, but the 24-year-old is making a case to replace Hill as the club's back-up catcher next season. Otherwise, some team should peek into snagging the young catcher from Chicago much like the Rays did in acquiring Robinson Chirinos earlier this year. Castillo's prospect status lost most of its shine in 2008 and 2009, as the catcher struggled to adjust to Double-A pitching, but another move up to Triple-A in 2010 seems to have helped him click of late. Over 528 PA's with Triple-A Iowa since the beginning of last season, Castillo has hit .270/.332/.507 with 28 homers.
The White Sox still have A.J. Pierzynski around for 2012, but I expect the team to begin to phase him out over the next year. More and more, you'll be seeing Mr. Flowers crouching behind the plate, and more importantly, smacking bombs at the plate. After a rough 2010 caused many to sour on the former Braves farmhand, Flowers turned in a .261/.390/.500 line with Triple-A Charlotte this season, and he's been playing semi-frequently with Chicago for roughly a month now. It remains to be seen how the playing time will stack up in Chicago next season, but Flowers is worth keeping an eye on given how power/OBP potential.