Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back-up catcher role comes to the forefront

With the news that Jamey Carroll was in town on Tuesday to complete his physical and become the Twins shortstop for 2012, the focus now turns to some of the other needs for the team. The next hing on the list that Terry Ryan has concerns about is the role of backup catcher. The backup brigade of Drew Butera, Rene Rivera, and Steve Holm were only able to muster a .158 batting average in all of 2011.

The free agent market for catchers has already seen one player taken off of the Twins wish list with the Pirates signing Rod Barajas to a one-year, $4 million deal. This means that the organization will have to turn their attention to some of the other various options on the open market. There are some veteran players the Twins could consider and some younger players that have weaknesses in their game.

Ryan Doumit was a name that has repeatedly popped up in talks about the Twins. Over the weekend, it was reported that Doumit would sign a contract during the "next few days." The GM meetings are taking place in Milwaukee and the Twins contacted Doumit's agent on Monday to express interest in the switch-hitting catcher who played with the Pirates last season. Doumit is the exact opposite of Butera in the fact that he is a decent hitting catcher (.303/.353/.477 in '11) who struggles defensively.

With players like Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Varitek on the market, the Twins could also turn their attention to some cheaper veteran options. Each of these players has seen their role decline from stater to backup catcher in the twilight of their careers. In his last two seasons with the Nationals, Rodriguez has a batting line of .255/.291/.341 and has shown tremendous defensive ability. The Twins drafted his son, Dereck Rodiguez, in the sixth round of last June's draft and Sports Illustrated has also named the Twins as a possible suitor for Mr. Rodriguez in 2012.

Varitek could see himself out of a Red Sox uniform for the first time in his career. The 15-year veteran is only three seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance but in that time his offensive production has plummeted. Defense has also become an issue for the 39 year-old veteran who has shown some problems being behind the plate. In 68 games last season, Varitek showed he had a still had some life in his bat to hit .221/.300/.423 with 11 home runs.

There is always a slim chance that the Twins could turn to an internal option with the emergence of Chris Herrmann as a decent catching prospect in the organization. During his time in the minor leagues, he has shown a great ability to get on-base and hit for power. With Fort Myers and New Britain last season, Herrmann managed a .269/.385/.399 with 19 DBL and 62 RBI. There is a good chance the Twins will want to see more out of Herrmann in the minors before he gets the call to the big leagues.

It also seems the Twins might have some more flexibility on their bench this season since Jim Thome has moved on to the National League. One of the perks of having an extra spot on the bench is the ability to carry three catchers. This would allow the Twins to have Joe Mauer as their number one catcher, Butera as a defensive replacement, and someone new in the backup role. With Mauer needing to play at other positions, it would be nice for Ron Gardenhire to have more freedom with his everyday line-up card.

At this point, I hope the Twins bring in a solid player to fill the backup catcher role. With financial constraints and Herrmann waiting in the wings, I think the Twins will go with a veteran option as a one-year stopgap. The market could go a lot of directions in the next few weeks but I can see the Twins settling on Rodriguez.

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