The Red Sox are now, officially, lousy with catchers. The Red Sox made news last month when they signed the acknowledged best backup catcher in the game, David Ross, away from the Braves and now add Mike Napoli to the roster of backstops. They already have vowel enthusiast Jarrod Saltalamacchia in their mix as well as highly rated prospect (but quickly ageing himself out of prospect status) Ryan Lavarnway ready to take reps behind the plate.
Too much catching is not a bad problem to have…ordinarily. But what is there to make of this collection of Red Sox receivers?
The four-headed hyrda of catching might gives the Bosox nothing if not options. At least one of their potential catchers could be on the move, with “Salty” Saltalamacchia the most likely to go. The former top prospect in the Braves system becomes a free agent at the end of the season, a season in which he should earn in the neighbourhood of $4 Million, according to MLBTR’s mad science. Salty blasted a career-high 25 home runs at 2012, though his overall offensive production was slightly below league average. The abysmal state of big league catching gives the Sox a decent trade chip in Saltalamacchia, even with just one year of control remaining.
Ryan Lavarnway comes with more team control but many more question marks. The rookie struggled mightily in his first real go at big league pitching, posting an unsightly .157/.211/.248 line in 166 plate appearances. As was the concern during his ascent to the big leagues, our own Matt Klaassen’s catcher defensive ratings were unkind to Lavarnway’s work behind the plate.
The Red Sox acquired Napoli knowing he can do more than just catch, as his bat is strong enough to still play at first base as well as DH. Usually a catcher’s bat is only good enough to be a catcher, but Sox blog Over The Monster stated today made the case that his offensive profile is all but tailor-made for Fenway Park. Jonah Keri suggests Napoli’s numbers stand to improve by moving to Fenway while treating him mostly as a first baseman.
The Sox obviously have David Ortiz entrenched as their DH but Big Papi is 37 and coming off a season where he played just 90 games. In addition to getting extra time at first, Napoli is a terrific option to spell Ortiz should he need a day off should the above-mentioned regression boost his offensive value back to “elite” status. David Ross is also an ageing player, one who hasn’t taken 200 plate appearances in a single season since 2007.
With questions regarding the durability of Ross and the feasibility of Lavarnway, there is no rush to for the Red Sox to trade a catcher as many seem to believe. I’m not so sure. Lavarnway is already 25-years old and his next trip to AAA represents his third go-round at that level. His failings at the big league level might temper any potential trade value a catcher with just one year of service time delivers.
Keeping all four catchers in the mix is far from the worst thing the Red Sox could do. Unless somebody bowls Ben Cherington over with a trade proposal for Saltalamacchia or Lavarnway, cycling through these four players stands to benefit a club needing all the offense it can muster to offset their pitching “shortcomings.”