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Chasing Rainbows at Catcher
2004-10-28 10:14
by Jon Weisman

Top MLB Catchers, 2004

PlayerTeamAge2004 OPS2004 Salary
Ivan RodriguezDetroit32.893$6,521,554
Jorge PosadaN.Y. Yankees33.881$9,000,000
Javy LopezBaltimore33.872$6,000,000
Jason VaritekBoston32.872$6,900,000
Victor MartinezCleveland25.851$304,500
Johnny EstradaAtlanta28.828$312,500
Michael BarrettChicago Cubs28.826$1,550,000
Mike PiazzaNew York Mets36.806$16,071,429
Jason KendallPittsburgh30.789$8,571,429
Mike LieberthalPhiladelphia32.783$7,500,000
Paul Lo DucaL.A./Florida32.758$4,066,667
A.J. PierzynskiSan Francisco27.729$3,500,000

Of the top 12 catchers in baseball in 2004 (including Mike Piazza in the category), seven command salaries of $6 million or more. Through arbitration, Paul Lo Duca figures to become the eighth. All will turn 33 or more next season except Jason Kendall.

Two others earn low six-figure salaries because they haven't earned arbitration or free agency rights yet. Consider Cleveland and Atlanta blessed.

An 11th catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, made $3,500,000 despite an OPS lower than that of Royce Clayton or Tony Womack. Not exactly a bargain, though at age 27, his statistics should improve.

That leaves the Chicago Cubs' Michael Barrett, who hit 16 home runs and 32 doubles in 2004, as perhaps the best don't-break-the-bank catcher around. Barrett is due for a raise through arbitration but apparently is just shy of his free agent rights. A poorer team might consider trading him, but the contending Cubs figure to keep him.

Some other catchers? Here are the most noteworthy remaining free agents at the position, according to Peter Gammons.

PlayerTeamAge2004 OPS2004 Salary
Damian MillerOakland35.742$3,000,000
Mike MathenySt. Louis34.640$4,000,000
Henry BlancoMinnesota33.628$750,000

Miller had a surprisingly strong season given his age, but that will only encourage him to ask for his own raise. Expect him to draw at least $3,500,000 for a one-year deal or $6,500,000 on a two-year-deal.

Here's the current Dodger starter:

PlayerTeamAge2004 OPS2004 Salary
Dave RossLos Angeles27.544$310,000

If, after the Dodgers resign Adrian Beltre and augment their starting pitching, they have salary left over for a no-holds-barred pursuit of a top-tier catcher, great. But more than any other position, chasing top catchers is closest to chasing rainbows. It's a potentially expensive pursuit and one most likely to leave you empty-handed.

Dave Ross will earn close to the major-league minimum next season. His 2004 performance was abysmal, but you realize as you look at some of these catchers that even for Ross, the journey to average isn't far, the journey to bargainhood even less so.

Let me repeat. There are many catchers out there better than Ross, many not even mentioned above. But there might not be many better bargains out there than Ross. If retaining Ross as the starter and batting him eighth allows the Dodgers to solve their other problems, that may be a satisfactory resolution.

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