Addressing the Rangers Catching Situation
Over the past few days since the World Series came to a close, the Texas Rangers – and all 29 other organizations – have been diligently trying to plan out their offseason by coming up with a list of goals and needs. The two priorities the organization has are likely to put forth a strong effort in the hopes of resigning Cliff Lee and Vladimir Guerrero. But, beyond that there is also a need to address their situation behind the plate, as Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News discusses.
Last winter the Rangers were in a somewhat similar position in what was widely considered a better free agent market at the position. They went hard after a number of the catchers available but fell short in each pursuit. Ultimately there was a feeling within the organization that they needed a veteran presence to share time with their young prospects and provide a little stability for their pitching staff. A year later, those concerns still seem to exist.
At the onset of the 2010 season there was a hope that Jarrod Saltalamacchia would finally develop into the franchise catcher he was thought to be when the team acquired him in 2007 from Atlanta. Defensive concerns have been the main cause of his struggles over the past few seasons as Saltalamacchia has been dealing with what has been described as a mental block that affects his ability to simply return the ball to the pitcher. The mental anguish and stress has started to affect his offensive output and 2010 was the worst of his young career. After appearing in just two games with the Rangers he was optioned down to AAA where he would remain until a deadline day trade to Boston in July. Boston, hoping a change of scenery might prove to be helpful, kept him in AAA until a September callup. He’ll come to Spring Training with a chance to win the starting catcher job for the Red Sox but there are no guarantees.
Saltalamacchia’s partner behind the plate in Texas was expected to be Taylor Teagarden, the player he’s shared time with most over the past two seasons. Teagarden hasn’t dealt with any defensive problems in his limited time with the Rangers, but aside from a September callup in 2008 he has really struggled offensively. His career line through 316 at bats stands at .218/.287/.338 for an OPS+ of 59 with just 16 HRs and 47 RBI. The college standout at the University of Texas has always shown potential but has never fully lived up to expectations.
Finally, there was also prospect Max Ramirez. Yet another highly touted prospect, Ramirez had missed a good portion of the 2009 season due to injury and was expected to give the team depth behind the plate in 2010. He was nearly traded before the season got underway, however, in a deal with Boston for Mike Lowell before the Rangers backed out over concerns about Lowell’s own injury history. Ramirez spent most of the season at AAA but did appear in 28 games for the Rangers through May and June. He too hasn’t lived up to expectations thus far but should factor into the mix come 2011.
With uncertainty at the position going into the 2010 season and having failed at landing any of the big free agents the previous winter, the Rangers found some additional depth late in Spring Training when they acquired Matt Treanor from Milwaukee. Depth is exactly what Treanor was expected to be when he was brought in but he quickly found himself getting a great deal of playing time as Texas’s other backstops continued to struggle. He would post career highs in games played (82), at bats (237), home runs (5), runs (22), hits (50), and walks (22). Treanor is currently a free agent but has expressed interest in returning to Texas next season.
Bengie Molina had failed to get the multi year contract he was hoping for last winter and ended up signing a one year deal to return to San Francisco. Most knew it was only a matter of time before his playing time would diminish as the Giants had their own star prospect waiting in the wings in Buster Posey. On July 1st the Giants dealt Molina to Texas to clear the way for Posey to take the reigns full time. Molina would thrive in Texas after the deal, taking over starting duties for the Rangers. Offensively he wasn’t a big threat, Molina never truly was at any point in his career. But on the defensive front, he became a favorite of the Texas pitching staff and was behind the plate for most of the team’s playoff run. Molina is also a free agent now, but has reportedly been considering retirement for the past month or two so it remains to be seen if he will return in 2011.
Texas entered 2010 with a number of options but none that stepped up to take over the catcher spot. Ultimately it was the two men brought in after the fact – Treanor and Molina – who solidified the position and provided the team with the defensive leadership they desired. It was a testament to how the team had been built that they could get by as well as they did with such little production behind the plate. It’s a formula that worked once and could work again next season.
As Grant writes, the Rangers don’t necessarily have to go out and get the top catcher available this winter. With such a weak market at the position, each of the options available have their own drawbacks. Victor Martinez can hit, but can’t throw and will be looking for a big money contract. John Buck has some power, but little else. Molina doesn’t know if he wants to play. And there are other options who are each as one-dimensional as the others.
So what does Texas do?
This year, Texas is a more attractive option to potential free agents than they were this time last year. With new owners in place the team has money to spend and playing time to offer. Plus, this team that went to the World Series remains largely in tact so they are certainly going to be viewed as a contender going into next season.
Bringing in a free agent is not out of the question. But again, all of the available ones aren’t exactly franchise changers. With other priorities the team likely won’t want to spend the money to bring in someone like Martinez and could see options like Buck, Miguel Olivo, and Rod Barajas sign elsewhere before the team makes a run to address the problem. They could go after someone like A.J. Pierzynski to fill the void or even potentially make a trade for someone like Russell Martin. Or, they could simply bring Treanor back into the fold and have him share time with Teagarden and Ramirez with the hopes that someone starts to live up to their potential.
In 2010, the Rangers didn’t fill the position with anything special. In fact, their solution essentially fell into their laps. They’ll have every chance to bring in someone for the 2011 season or else they can cross their fingers for more of the same.