Adding Rod Barajas may not be a bad idea at all.
As it stands today, the Red Sox do not have a foundation-level catcher. This was something we were all aware was going to happen as we ended the Jason Varitek-era. There was no catcher of the future.
Remember what it was like before Varitek? When it was Bill Haselman and Scott Hatteberg and your catcher position was basically replacement-level?
We might be there again for a couple years.
When Victor Martinez was in Boston, he served as an offensive stop-gap behind the plate while the team ferociously hunted after prospects Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden. Theo Epstein was greasing the wheels for this Salty/veteran power-hitting, old catcher-combination since early 2009. Everyone knew (whether we wanted to admit it to ourselves or not) that VMart was not in the teams’ plans long-term.
[BOSTON GLOBE: In-house catching options]
For years the Red Sox coveted Saltalamacchia and now that he is the fold, we will need to wait to see what develops. It may take awhile before we have some peace of mind at the catcher position and in the meantime, the Red Sox have a handful of short-term solutions that they could pair with Saltalamacchia.
The most recent rumor links Barajas to the Red Sox. It doesn’t sound all that appealing as an addition and would require a relaxing of standards and expectation for the catcher position, so many fans are not very pleased with this idea.
For the last 13 seasons, we’ve had nothing but great-to-near elite performances at the catcher position in Boston and have grown to expect that.
But now Saltalamacchia is the future, so for today we have to wait again for greatness.
This presents the perfect opportunity to bring in an older, offensively-potent catcher. The Red Sox will be looking for someone with average-to above-average plate skills, non-liable defense, and willingness to share the duties with a 25-year old post-prospect.
Just this week, speculation floated out the idea of the Red Sox instead trading for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Russell Martin. It’s important to note that Martin is young enough and established enough to be a starting catcher in this league. Same goes for trading for Geovany Soto or Mike Napoli. If you want one of those guys to be your franchise-level catcher, then fine – but they are not great fits for catcher-developing timeshares.
AJ Pierzynski, maybe?
Good catcher profile and has a World Series ring, but it’s not a great idea to try and pry Pierzynski away from the White Sox. Granted he wasn’t offered arbitration by the team, but the expectation is that he will still remain on the South Side. He’s another guy who will need to log the majority of the playing time (65% of total team ABs for C) so we can just steer away from him.
Who else is there? Brad Ausmus? No. Josh Bard? No thanks on a retread. There’s no one else really in between Ramon Hernandez and and Greg Zaun seem worth a second look.
Except for maybe one other guy;
Miguel Olivo is thought of as another potential stop-gap for the Sox and we are all awaiting Olivo’s decision as to whether he’ll accept the Toronto Blue Jays arbitration offer. He is a Type-B free agent so no one would lose compensation for signing him so he may very well be on his way out of Toronto. Olivo has until Nov. 30th to decide.
Fantasy baseball players heavily favor Olivo after his huge first half this past season. Olivo got off to a quick start in 2010, posting a .325 batting average, 11 home runs and 42 RBI in Colorado before the All-Star break. But he fell off in the second half, scratching out a .193/.225/.313 line and was eventually traded to the Blue Jays and dropped from fantasy rosters.
Maybe it was just an erratic and unfortunate stretch for Olivo and player’s are subject to that, but it did raise some eyebrows. The other hesitation with Olivo is that for a catcher he has great plate skills, great base skills and is usually healthy and consistent. He sounds more like a starting catcher rather than a guy who is at the late stage of his career and more in a coach’s mold, which is what the Red Sox will be looking for. (see Patriots: Alge Crumpler)
From a production standpoint, I think Olivo would work out just fine, but offense is not the whole equation. He’s a really good 32-year old catcher who should be playing five days a week. If the next step is to allow Saltalamacchia to stabilize himself as a foundation level guy, then you probably don’t want a catcher in his prime, who will be competitive for playing time and feeding catcher controversies.
This is why Barajas is a great solution.
Barajas can essentially give you 350 ABs in 2011 with about 20 home runs and a stable presence at the position. There would be no delusions as to his role or future.
He fits very well into this older-catcher profile and for the Red Sox; he could provide some of the cheap power that you might like to see from your backup/timeshare. Barajas is an extreme flyball hitter (68% FB rate) and managed to mash 17 home runs in 2010, in just 313 ABs.
People are saying that he doesn’t ‘fit into the mold’ for the Red Sox because he won’t log a large amount of free passes. This is true and although he does maintain a good contact rate (83%), his EYE is just 0.24 and he has never posted an OBA over .300 in his career (save for an injury-shortened 2007).
But again, we are shopping for very specific attributes and no other available catcher meets the criteria (veteran, stable plate skills, health, and consistency, playing time). Unless you are looking to trade for a foundation-level catcher, Barajas is the best option to fill the role.
Some fans ask why not just bring back Varitek? Well, the slide in Varitek’s skills have been a lot sharper than can probably be tolerated and Barajas has been consistent in base plate skills for his entire career. Even when Barajas dramatically shifted to becoming an extreme flyball hitter, he still maintained his 80%+ contact rate.
Varitek on the other hand had a sudden and dramatic destabilization in plate skills. Despite the low contact rates in 2008 and 2009, Varitek was still pumping out a double-digit walk rate that kept his EYE favorable, but the writing was on the wall for him by the All-Star Break.
After cranking out 11 home runs in his first 200 ABs of 2009, Varitek closed out his last 160 ABs with just three homeruns and a paltry .173 batting average. Varitek watched his contact rate plummet from 78% in the first half of ’09 all the way down to 65% by the end of 2010. He was also failing to display any of the power that he showed in early part of ’09.
Given his age (37), it’s highly unlikely that his skills will rebound and he is now a defensive liability. It would be nice if Varitek hung up the cleats this offseason and retired on his own accord. Maybe there is a place for him on the big league coaching staff. Red Sox fans can only hope that he stays with the team for a long time and plays a new role to help win championships and aid in the development of Saltalamacchia.
Saltalamacchia has shown glimpses of an elite plate-presence but has had stretches of terrible play and bounced around between AAA and the Majors. The idea of teaming up this combination of Barajas and Saltalamacchia makes a lot of fans very uneasy, but this is probably something that we will need to prepare for and accept.
The real problem will be if they do not replace Vmart’s production elsewhere in the lineup.