2014 Free Agency: Top Catchers for the Marlins to Target this Winter
Oct 19, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia reacts after striking out against the Detroit Tigers during the second inning in game six of the American League Championship Series playoff baseball game at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
In 2013 the Marlins offense ranked last in WAR giving up -0.7, that is to say that the Marlins offense was so bad that an imaginary team of AAA level guys would have hit better than the Marlins did collectively. The biggest drag on the Marlins was their catchers who in a collective 644 PA, hit 10 HR, struck 26.6% of the time and slashed .192/.249/.280; you don’t have to Bill James to know that’s bad. David Samson recently said during a press conference ““We’re getting ready for another season, and we’re going to win more. I promise you this: We’re not going to lose 100 games next year. Not close.” Which I assume means that the front office is willing to put its money where its mouth is. The free agent market for catchers is thin, there are lots of old guys and perennial backups on the market. But these three I think are the best three choices for the Marlins to improve at backstop in 2014.
Since 2011 his first full season with the Red Sox, Saltalamacchia has proven to be one of the best youngish power hitting catchers in the Majors. Since 2011 he has ISOs of .215, .232 and .193 respectively slugging 55 HR in 3 years, an average of about 18 a year. His BB/K ratio is worrying at near 1/5. His OBP has been in the high .200s and low .300s in his time with Boston but his wOBA and wRC+ have been much more consistent with a wOBA at .319 and wRC+ 95 in 11 and 12 and slightly higher at .349 and 117 in 13.
He isn’t a superlative defensive catcher marking up negative DRS scores for all three years as the primary catcher in Boston. His defensive weakness and possible lack of rapport with the pitching staff is obviated by the fact the Red Sox have counted upon David Ross to take the bulk of the catching duties during the current World Series.
But his offense, the fact he might be a relative bargain in the free agent market and the fact that both his hometown and family live in Palm Beach county could give the Marlins a good chance at nabbing him in the free agent market. I would pay 2 or 3 years at 6-8MM per. Which I realize is less than the qualifying offer.
It doesn’t seem like the Phillies are thinking about re-signing their All-Star catcher. Chooch has been a constant thorn in the Marlins and Marlins fans sides as a stalwart offensive option slashing .295/.374/.436 since 2010 while drawing an almost 1/1 (9.0%/11.5% walk to strikeout ratio). Ruiz may not be a power hitter, but he gives you good at bats, he has an idea when he comes up to the plate. This is supported by his low ~3.70 pitches per plate appearance since 2010 paired with a low strikeout rate and a relatively high walk rate. His 13.7 WAR is the 5th most amongst catchers since 2010.
Ruiz is also one of the best defensive catchers in the game. I think from watching him play 19 times a year it is quite obvious. He is great at blocking the plate in both senses against passed balls and when the runner is barreling in on him. Most importantly he has handled a staff comprised of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay splendidly in his time. I think if the price is right and the Phillies don’t resign him the Marlins should jump at the chance of having Chooch at backstop.
Since 2010 at 100 wRC+ and .328 wOBA Soto might be the prototypical defense first, adequate hitting catcher in baseball there is nothing to complain from a .236/.325/.423 slash with 54 HR and .187 ISO. It is not impressive and there certainly are better offensive catchers but you don’t hate the idea of having Soto come up in the 7 spot of the order 4 times a game. But sadly his stats might be inflated as a result of playing the majority of his home games first in Wrigley Field and then Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. While he is a better offensive player at home according to his splits it is not so marked that it is uneven.
I haven’t seen the Cubs nor the Rangers play enough in the past few years to make an honest “eye test” of Soto’s defensive skills but his advanced metrics suggest an average defensive catcher with less than average arm strength and success of throwing runners out. Soto isn’t great, he might be average at best. But compared to the garbage fire that the Marlins put out at catcher day in and day out in 2013, average might not be so bad. Most importantly his contract that just expired was only for $2.8MM for 1 year and would be an affordable choice to at least attempt an upgrade at catcher.
Saltalamacchia, Ruiz and Soto I think are the three best free agent catcher choices out there for the Marlins to go after. If the Fish can get any of these three guys at between $4-8MM a year for a short term 1, 2 or 3 year deal they could go a long way towards building a contending club. Especially as we wait on J.T Realmuto’s development in the Minor Leagues. Who probably is the Marlins true catcher of the future.