Miguel Olivo is gone, causing a lot of happiness in Mariner country. This means that the only two catchers on the Mariners 40 man roster are Jesus Montero and John Jaso, two poor defensive catchers. So here I will look at 3 cheap catching free agents that the Mariners could pursue this off-season.
Dioner Navarro will turn 29 years old in the off-season. He hasn’t been a very good hitter in his career with a 76 wRC +. The average catcher in 2012 had a 95 wRC +. The good thing is that his peripherals are solid, as he has an okay walk rate and doesn’t strikeout much at all. His problem is that he just doesn’t hit for much power at all.
He is a really poor baserunner, but is about average for a catcher with a 2.6 speed score (the average catcher in 2012 had the same speed score). Basically all catchers are bad runners, so unless they are good or even decent runners, it isn’t worth noting.
Navarro was rated one of the worst defensive catchers in 2011 by the Beyond the Box Score Catcher ratings. Overall, he has a pretty poor defensive reputation.
I picked him because before looking at him in depth, I thought he was a good option. Now I don’t really see his value. He would be better than Miguel Olivo, that obviously isn’t saying a whole lot, but that is where the Mariners need their improvement. They need a guy who can play the role of Olivo better than Olivo, and if they are cheaper, that is even better as they don’t want to make a real sizable financial commitment to them.
In 2011, Ronny Paulino was almost as bad as Navarro defensively and his small sample size in 2012 also got negative ratings. However, according to most defensive metrics, he has been a good defensive catcher most of his career. He has been a servicable hitter as well, with a 84 wRC + for his career. That is really close to Justin Smoak’s 2012, without the positional adjustment (you would expect a 1st baseman to be about 14 wRC + better than a catcher on average). He doesn’t have much power either, and he strikes out a little bit more than Navarro. Most of the time, he goes to center-right according to the spray chart, which probably won’t play very well at Safeco (or at least it wouldn’t have, depending on how the new fences affect the park):
Yorvit Torrealba was ranked actually above Jose Molina in 2011 as a defensive catcher. He had an interesting year in 2012, struggling and playing for 3 different big league teams (the Rangers, Blue Jays, and the Brewers).
His 2012 season included the worst defensive season of Torrealba’s career, and he was plagued by a bad BABIP offensively. Was this fluky, or is Torrealba’s skills diminishing this much? In his career, he has averaged 260.306 feet per batted ball, which is pretty solid. In 2012, he averaged just 242.453 feet per batted ball, which is really poor. That is obviously concerning. He had a .81311 xOPS on balls off the bat in 2012, and a .67889 xOPS overall. This is not at his career average (.702 OPS in his career), but it isn’t too far off, and was better than his .623 actual OPS in 2012. Yorvit has always been a ground-ball hitter, but hit less line drives this year than normal. So it was not a good hitting year for him and at age 34 as a career catcher, he could just be regressing. However, he is still a catcher that has hit a little bit (81 wRC +) with positive defensive numbers for his career. He isn’t a starter by any means, but he can be servicable in a back up role. I think he is definitely a better defensive catcher than Jaso or Montero.You need Yorvit to play solidly defensively, and to hit a little bit. He doesn’t need to hit like you expect Montero to or how Jaso hit in 2012, he just needs to do better than Miguel Olivo, which I think he will do.
Even with the regression concern, I still like Torrealba better than the other two options. I would rank them as follows: Torrealba, Paulino, then Navarro. You won’t be really happy with any of them, especially if they have to play a lot, but they are better options than Miguel Olivo, and they should be cheaper as well. None of these guys are going to hit like Jaso or Montero will, but they will almost certianly be better defensive options, at least until Mike Zunino is ready and fixes his own recent defensive problems. It would be nice to be able to bring someone else up, but the Mariners are pretty thin in the upper minors with catchers. Guys like Jesus Sucre are very far from the Majors, even if they make it behind, and remember that the Tacoma Rainiers catchers last year were Guillermo Quiroz, Ralph Henriquez, and Brandon Bantz. Quiroz is a veteran that has gotten his chance in the Majors and failed. He was traded to the Red Sox as Tacoma’s season ended and is now a free agent. The above 3 catchers are better than him as big league or even AAA options. Henriquez was demoted to AA and eventually released, while Bantz is not much of a prospect and doesn’t look like a big league player. Unless the Mariners plan on starting Zunino in the Majors in 2013 (which they shouldn’t) they are going to have to go outside of the organization to find a catcher, and I really think they need a 3rd catcher.
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Favorite general sports moment: The Texas versus USC college football national championship comes to mind, as does Gary Matthews Jr. catch on July 1st 2006.
Favorite Seattle Sports Moment: King Felix throwing a perfect game against the Rays
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