Russell Martin is going to get paid — and rightfully so. It might be by the Dodgers, but it also might not be (#analysis).
He’s looking for a 5-year, $75-80 million deal. That’s a lot of money for a catcher entering his age-32 season with a lot of mileage and a history of nagging injuries. But, he’s also coming off one of his best offensive seasons since his early days with the Dodgers and he’s well-established as one of the game’s best defenders, particularly when it comes to pitch framing.
A skill-set like that, despite the age and injury concerns, will land him a big pay day. Assuming a team (let’s just say the Cubs) gives Martin close to what he’s asking for, the Dodgers will still be in the market for a catcher – be it a full-time starter or a backup who figures to split time evenly with A.J. Ellis. I’m still of the opinion the Dodgers will non-tender Ellis and bring him back at a lower rate. He’s basically the opposite of what Andrew Friedman looks for in a catcher, but the most important person in the franchise (Clayton Kershaw) loves him and wants him to stick around. If Kershaw wants it, then it shall be so.
Let’s look at who else is available on the free agent- and trade markets.
BPF = Baseball Prospectus Framing
SCF = Stat Corner Framing
The Padres actually had three catchers on the roster in 2014 before trading Hundley to the Orioles. He was clearly the “worst” (for lack of a better term) of the three they had and is now a free agent. With the emergence of Caleb Joseph and the expected return of Matt Wieters (at some point), Hundley doesn’t appear to be in the Orioles’ plans going forward.
The cream of the crop. Martin is worth every penny he’ll get this offseason. I’d go as high as four years and $60 million for him. Seeing as the Dodgers’ best catching prospect is slated for Low-A next season, there won’t be any chance of him threatening Martin’s job until at least 2018.
He’s old, not that good on either side of the ball and is a jerk. He doesn’t seem like the kind of player Friedman and Co., would be interested in. As poorly as Ellis played, Pierzynski would be a definite downgrade. Only positive: he’s a left-handed hitter and could be a decent complementary piece to a right-handed hitting catcher.
Soto looked like he was going to have a long career in Chicago after a 2008 season that saw him hit 23 home runs and take home the National League Rookie of the Year. But he’s struggled with performance and to stay healthy since. He finished up 2014 with the A’s and could be a value-type free agent. He isn’t the best defensively/framing, but he’s better than some of the other options available.
You remember Ross, right? He was the guy who took over for Paul Lo Duca in 2004 after the Brad Penny trade. Ross has never been a good offensive performer. Sure, he has a little pop, but his hit tool is far below-average. He makes his money behind the plate, as evidenced by his high marks on pitch-framing. Ross wouldn’t be much of an upgrade over the current Dodger duo, but his framing is far superior and might be worth a look.
If the Cubs sign Martin, Castillo could become expendable. If so, the Dodgers could be in the market for him. But, looking at those defensive numbers, he doesn’t exactly fit Friedman’s profile when it comes to a catcher. He’s probably better offensively than his 2014 numbers show.
Castro had a fantastic 2013 season at the plate, but fell off a bit in 2014. However, his defense and framing improved enough to help offset the offensive deficiency. I could see his defense staying the same and his offense returning closer to 2013 levels as he dealt with a few injuries this season. The Astros also acquired Hank Conger last week, who figures to splite time with Max Stassi. Castro might be the only catcher worth of starting who is truly available on the trade market.
Flowers was once a highly touted prospect, but has settled in as a second-division catcher. He has a lot of power potential, but he has a ton of swing-and-miss, too. He’s solid behind the plate and excels in framing, unless he doesn’t (depending which numbers you put more faith in).
This is the guy atop my trade wishlist and is second to only Martin overall. Grandal is young (26), has a good offensive profile (power, high walk rate, low strikeout rate) and is great at framing. So, why would the Padres even entertain dealing him? Well, they have Rivera (whom you’ll read about shortly) and Austin Hedges, who might be the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues. Grandal could be had, but it’d take more than some folks would expect is reasonable. None of the Dodgers’ top four guys would be in play, but it might take a player of Chris Anderson’s caliber to get the Padres to the table.
He’s not great offensively, but at least he can draw a walk. Friedman traded for Hanigan while in Tampa, and it’s based solely on his defensive prowess. He’s great at framing and has a strong arm. He, teamed with Jose Molina, formed one of the best defensive/framing catching duos in the game. I’m not sure the Rays would want to break that up, but Friedman could look to his former place of employment to fill the Dodgers’ catching need.
Norris got off to a hot start last season before falling off and dealing with injuries. The A’s had about 18 catchers on the roster toward the end of the season, so it’s possible they’d entertain dealing Norris. Seriously, has Billy Beane ever said no to a trade he didn’t like? Also, the Dodgers just hired Farahan Zaidi, so there is a connection to Oakland there. But, the A’s probably won’t actively shop Norris this winter. Plus, John Jaso dealt with concussions last season. Norris is a longshot.
Rivera was once a Dodger minor-leaguer (for one year). If only they knew what he would become, maybe they wouldn’t have let him go. Not only did he hit at a respectable clip, he’s one of the best defensive/framing catchers in the game. The Padres probably realize this, so they wouldn’t just trade him away for a less-than-optimal return. But, he’s older than Grandal, and with Austin Hedges on the way, the Padres can’t continue to have three starting-caliber catchers on their roster. He might be the most realistic trade target on this list, despite the intradivision tax the Dodgers would probably have to pay to acquire him.
There are a couple guys here who probably aren’t going anywhere (Montero – at least, not to the Dodgers, Norris) and a couple of the free agents just aren’t good enough to be 120-plus game catchers anymore. The easiest guy to land is Martin, as a big contract could get him to sign. On the trade market, I could see Castro or Rivera being the most likely to move.
My wishlist (of the players listed above):
- Everyone else
Upgrading the catcher position has to be high on Friedman’s To Do list (probably No. 2 behind trade an outfielder), and there are some options out there. Don’t expect them to find the next Buster Posey or Yadier Molina, but almost anyone here would be an upgrade as a starter over Ellis.