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Free Agent Catchers

The thinnest of the free agent positions is far and away catcher this offseason. Take a look at this table with all free agent catcher's Net Runs Above Average:

Paul Bako and Todd Pratt look like they are the best free agent catchers, but Pratt historically is not that adept defensively, and Paul Bako only played in 13 games, discounting both of those performances. That leaves Ramon Hernandez, Brad Ausmus and Bengie Molina. Mike Piazza will most likely sign with an American League team and DH, but that will bring his value up greatly. Notice his Rate2 of 91. If he did not have any negative defensive value, his NRAA would have been +2.67 above average. Let's take a look at a few of these catchers Established Performance Levels in order to determine their real value:

From this we can see that Paul Bako is actually the worst of these catchers, and that Ramon Hernandez has the highest NRAA of all of them via EPL. The problem with this is that Hernandez is also going to be the most expensive of all of these catchers. I would see if Todd Pratt could deal with a full season of catching (although that is something that should have been tried somewhere around 1992), because he will be extremely inexpensive compared to these other catchers. Bengie Molina is essentially a league average hitter with league average defense, but will cost more than the other average catcher's on the list. Mike Piazza, as previously mentioned, will end up as a DH if he continues playing. Brad Ausmus has plenty of value to a team when he is capable of playing very well defensively as he has historically. Before this past season, his defense seemed to have been slipping along with the little hitting ability that he possessed. If he is rejuvenated defensively and not a complete embarassment at the plate than he is a valuable part of a team considering the absolute lack of talented catchers available.

With the way the catcher's market looks this year, Jason Varitek most likely was a bargain for the Red Sox in 05', even at $10 million per season. The Brewers do not have to worry about their catcher's spot too much thanks to locking up Damian Miller through 2006 (with an option for 2007 at the relatively low cost of $3.75 million). The 2006 catcher's market looks like a great improvement over 2005 at first glance:

  • Jorge Posada
  • Damian Miller
  • Henry Blanco
  • Doug Mirabelli
  • Javier Valentin
  • Jason LaRue
  • Vance Wilson
  • Rod Barajas
  • Javy Lopez
  • Mike Redmond
  • A.J. Pierzynski

I say at first glance simply because we do not know what 2006 will bring for these players as of yet. Jason LaRue is my favorite of the catcher's on this list by far though. Here is a player who has improved upon his EqA for five straight seasons, coming all the way up from .234 to his very good .280 line this year. His defense has not followed the same path, but it is still roughly league average. He has averaged 115 games played for the past 5 years, so he has not been abused like some other catcher's and may perform well into his mid-30's. The lesson for the teams this winter: Don't spend too much on mediocre to bad catching this winter, because 2006 will bring much better players.