Yesterday, I was discussing how the catching tandem of John Baker and Ronny Paulino has failed the team this season. While injury and ineffectiveness plagued the Marlins’ backstops in 2010, what we should be focused on is how the future will be affected. Recently, Nick Cafardo from the Boston Globe mentioned that the Marlins may have some interest in free agent catcher Victor Martinez, a top target for many other teams as well (H/T MLBTR).
I decided to wander over to MLB Trade Rumors and check out some of the available catchers for this offseason to see if anyone could be a fit for the Marlins. Let’s start with the biggest name.
Martinez passed on a two-year extension from the Boston Red Sox and is likely to test the market this offseason. While the Red Sox will be bidding, much of the rest of the league will also be interested, and rightfully so. Few teams can boast the kind of bat that Martinez has at the most demanding position in baseball; Martinez posted a 2010 wOBA of .360 off of a .299/.347/.489 slash line, and his career marks are remarkably similar, as he has hit .299/.369/.468 in his career, with an identical .360 wOBA. He is one of the three or four best hitting catchers in the game, and he does this by having moderately good power and excellent plate coverage and contact. Martinez has struck out in just 11.5% of non-IBB PA in his career, and his numbers looked even better in 2010. Combined with a solid 8.5% career walk rate, and you have an offensive monster for a catcher.
There are issues that come with Martinez, however. He has never been known as a good catcher defensively, and much has been made of his paltry 22.0% CS% from this season. For his career, he has managed to snag only 23.7% of attempted base stealers, which is well below average. DRS has him as 17 runs worse than average as a catcher for his career, while Sean Smith’s TZ numbers have him at -6 runs. Martinez has spent a lot of time in his career at first base as well, but that would not be an option for the Marlins, as both Gaby Sanchez and/or Logan Morrison are tightly locked into that position. Martinez has also missed time at catcher due to various injuries; he has managed only one full season in the last three years.
All of this comes with a hefty price tag and plenty of future uncertainty. Even while splitting time at first base and DH in his career, Martinez has logged plenty of miles behind the plate, and catchers tend to wear down quickly. Based on the FanGraphs contract crowdsourcing poll for Martinez this year, the FanGraphs crowd expected Martinez to receive a deal with a medial of four years and $12M annually. That would cost a pretty penny when considering the length of the deal and the chance of decline and missed time by Martinez. Indeed, if the Marlins do look at Martinez, the team will be taking a huge chance
Buck is having an excellent season for the Toronto Blue Jays this year, even though he spent some time off with a lacerated thumb. This is Buck’s second straight season in which he has essentially been an average (and given this season’s lower run environment, an above average) hitter, with a .335 and .332 wOBA the last two seasons respectively. Buck’s claim to fame is power, as he has ISO’d over .200 in each of the last two years. It’s a good thing he can do that, because he more or less can’t do anything else; Buck strikes out at a Dan Uggla-style rate (24.1% career) and doesn’t walk at all (6.3% career). He also has never been known as a good catcher, worth -17 or -18 runs, depending on the system you ask. Basically, he is Miguel Olivo with more power and less of an arm, and I think most Marlins fans would rather not see Miguel Olivo again.
I hope the Colorado Rockies pick up his $2.5M option so the Marlins aren’t tempted to bring back this train wreck.
Truthfully, I haven’t been entirely fair to Olivo, who has an approach at the plate that can only be considered “terrible.” But his defense is acceptable and sometimes even a plus; TZ has him worth -3 runs over his career, while DRS has him at +24 (!). However, DRS only measures his CS% ability, which is admittedly very good. Olivo has always had a strong arm, but what he’s also done throughout his career is be unable to block the plate. His work blocking pitches at the plate looks like John Baker’s work, which is definitely among the worst in the game. Though he has has had two seasons in a row which have been decent (FanGraphs has him at 5+ WAR in the last two seasons), I doubt he can keep it up.
Molina is the polar opposite of a guy like Buck, in that he is a “defense-first” catcher that is inept offensively. Molina’s career wOBA is a meager .273 (!), but he has been worth 34 runs above the average catcher according to TotalZone in his career. He likely would not be a good choice as a starting catcher, though I am not sure how he would affect the team’s pitching staff in any way. I would lean against this choice as well.
Pass. He’s Molina without the defense.
Zaun is an interesting target. He has a club option from the Milwaukee Brewers this offseason, but with the team having both Jonathan Lucroy and George Kottaras, Zaun is unlikely to return. He has been out all season with injury and has said that he may consider retiring, so the Marlins may not have a chance to get him. If they do, they’ll receive an average defender behind the plate and a decent hitter, even for a 40-year old. Plus, he’d be a “veteran presence,” I suppose.
While there are a lot of catchers in the market this offseason, there are not a lot of good options outside of Martinez, who of course comes with his own risks. I think the team will ultimately go with a cheap option like Buck or Molina (or a variety of other mediocre names) while they wait for guys like Baker to return from injury. Next time, I’ll look into a trade option that may make sense, if the Marlins can come up with the right offer.