Fun With Free Agents: Part 5 (Backstops)

It’s a long offseason. Time to continue the speculation, dreaming, or whatever you want to call this wonderful process:

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How about some catchers?

Ryan Doumit, Kelly Shoppach, Ivan Rodriguez

Why the Tigers need these players:

A moderately proven backup catcher for Alex Avila is beyond necessary. Victor Martinez, signed last offseason to a big 4-year deal to DH and to back up Avila, suffered various injuries in the latter part of the season and was unable to serve as a defensive replacement. Meaning, Avila caught too many games, and was likely hurting and/or fatigued down the stretch. In his first year as a full time catcher, he caught in 133 games, threw out 32% of potential base stealers, hit a very respectable .295, hit 19 HRs, and was voted the starting catcher for the AL All-Star Game. Ultimately, down the stretch proved to be a bit much, in my opinion, as he was getting very little time off. It showed in the postseason, as he managed only 3 hits in 41 ABs, good for a .073 BA. He looked lost at times, slow most of the other times during the postseason leading most of us to believe that he was just overworked down the stretch. Avila is only 24 years old, but with the grind of catching, and the assortment of foul balls he was taking off of all parts of his body, even a young stud like him needs a break. And with Victor on the mend for much of the season with a knee injury, Avila received no reprieve. Having a Doumit, Shoppach, or even a Pudge on the team would be beneficial for Avila in getting some regular time off.

Why the Tigers don’t need these players:

The biggest scenario of why the Tigers wouldn’t be shopping for a backup is, Victor being healthy. If he convinces the organization that he’s healthy enough to catch part time (like he was supposed to anyway) then in theory, there’s no need to sign a backup. And if you’re fine and sold on Omir Santos as the emergency and/or third catcher, then there’s really no need to sign or inquire about a free agent backup.

-=crickets=-

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Let’s be realistic: Victor is capable of being the backup, healthy or not. We have to remember that he’s not the greatest defensive catcher, he just happens to be serviceable and useful when he is in fact, healthy enough to squat for 9 innings twice a week. But for me, I’d rather see him give Miguel Cabrera an occasional day off at first base.

As for the 3 aforementioned catchers:

Doumit has a decent bat, but isn’t all there defensively, only throwing out 24% of baserunners last season. He batted .303, but was limited by injuries last season, playing in only 77 games. He has been injury prone over the course of his career, and his last contract with the Pirates was a cool $5.2MM for last season. Hard to imagine him being able to command that kind of money with his history of potential vs results, especially if you’re going after him as a backup. Nonetheless, for backup purposes, you could easily take a chance on that potential if you can sign him on the cheap, knowing you won’t have to run out the damaged goods on a regular basis.

Shoppach is a better defensive catcher, is less than marginal offensively, and may be hard to get as his status is in limbo as far as free agency is concerned. The Rays currently hold a team option for him, so he’s not officially a free agent, but would be my pick of the three to back up Avila. I for one don’t care that he hit only .176 last season in 87 games, I like that he threw out 41% potential base stealers in his 86 games as a catcher. Not bad, considering he was terrible at that during the previous season. Shoppach is the ideal backup, as he’s not necessarily going to be needed for his offensive skills.

As for Rodriguez, he could close out his Hall of Fame career with perhaps 1 more season backing up Avila, and perhaps even mentor him and make him a better catcher. Pudge, who’ll turn 40 this month, didn’t do much last season, batting only .218 in 44 games. But as a backup, he could probably log a couple of games a week, and he’d be coming back to the franchise that he helped reinvigorate after he was signed to a 4 year deal following the Tigers epically bad 2003 season. I have no reason to believe that the fans wouldn’t want this particular scenario, having a proven winner and able backup, especially if he can remain in good health.

The Tigers don’t have much in the organization in terms of catching, let alone replacement catching. Taking a flyer on any of these guys isn’t going to hurt. Not signing one of them may hurt, if the Tigers are left with Victor being the safety net at the backstop. As Victor gets older himself, it’s more important to keep him healthy and at the plate, where he was enormous for the club last season. But Avila needs a viable backup, especially if the Tigers want him to actually catch for a great length of time. He’s got a lot of great years potentially ahead of him, but only if the team doesn’t burn him out first.

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You can follow me on Twitter, @DisplacedTgrFan, and read some of my previous musings at The Displaced Tiger Fan.

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Tags: Alex Avila Detroit Tigers Free Agents Ivan Rodriguez Kelly Shoppach Ryan Doumit Victor Martinez

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