Caught Up in a Catching Situation

The Royals had a three-headed monster at catcher for parts of the 2009 season.  It seems safe to assume that heading into 2010 they will have a more conventional approach to the position and carry just 2 catchers, but who those catchers will be remains very much up in the air.

Miguel Olivo (30) hit 0.249/.292/.490 with 23 HR, 19 BB, and 126 SO in 416 PA.  He posted a 103 OPS+ and was 2.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).  For his career, Olivo has hit 0.243/.278/.423 with an OPS+ of 82 in 8 ML seasons.  In 3 of the last 4 seasons, he has (for the most part) been better than his career numbers, especially in SLG.  He has a mutual option with the team for $3.3 million and the same performance bonuses that were included in his 2009 contract.  This season he made a base salary of $2.9 million and another $400,000 in bonus money.  Barring injury, it seems reasonable that he would accumulate similar bonus dollars in 2010 if he remains with the team.  Despite his defensive limitations, the Royals would be nuts to decline their end of the option.  Conversely, based on the lack of quality in the 2010 FA catching class, Olivo can probably earn a multi-year contract on the FA market and with a higher base salary than what the Royals are set to pay him.  Because of this, I’m going to assume that he will reject his end of the mutual option and become a free agent.

Olivo’s decision on his option will impact what the Royals do with John Buck (28) who made $2.9 million in 2009.  Considering he got a raise from his $2.2 million salary in 2008 despite coming off a “down” year in 2007, Buck is going to get a nice pay raise via arbitration if the Royals choose to go that route with him.  A conservative estimate on his 2010 salary would be a similar $700,000 raise which would bump him up to $3.6 million.  However, he is coming off his best ML season despite limited playing time.  With the lackluster FA class of catchers in play, Buck could easily submit an arbitration number in excess of $4 million, and there is a decent chance he could win his case if things went that far.  Last year he hit 0.247/.299/.484 with 8 HR, 13 BB, and 55 SO in 202 PA.  He posted an OPS+ of 104 and had a WAR of 0.9.  Buck had his best season in terms of BA, SLG, and OPS+ while maintaining his OBP right in line with his career mark of 0.298.  Like Olivo, he has his limitations when it comes to his defensive play, but he is 2 years younger than Miguel and has been more consistent over the course of his career.

Between the 2 catchers, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, the Royals should work on keeping Buck if they can come to terms with him in the ballpark of $3.6 million.  Choosing one over the other will prove to be moot this offseason, since I fully expect Olivo to reject his option anyway.  If Buck pushes for a salary over $4 million, the Royals might be better off walking away from both of their primary backstops from last year.

This of course would leave the team with the very offensively capable Brayan Pena (27).  In 2009 he hit 0.273/.318/.442 with 6 HR, 12 BB, and 18 SO in 183 PA.  Those numbers went along with an OPS+ of 100 and a WAR of 0.9.  He can hit, he can take a walk, he is the youngest option, but the Royals still don’t know if he can play the position on a regular basis.  In limited playing time he was rather brutal defensively, but the jury is still out on whether he can improve his skills with more game experience.  He will make close to league minimum again in 2010 which makes him a very attractive option.

Based on the above, Brayan Pena will stand as the lone returning catcher from the 2009 roster.  That means the Royals will have to plunge into the very unappealing FA waters.  I pulled the below list from MLB Trade Rumors, the first set of slash numbers are their 2009 season stats and their career stats are in parenthesis.  Victor Martinez and Bengie Molina are Type-A free agents who the Royals cannot realistically target due to financial reasons.

Brad Ausmus (41)  0.295/.343/.368 in 107 PA (0.252/.325/.344)

Paul Bako (38)  0.224/.308/.336 in 130 PA (0.231/.305/.318)

Rod Barajas (34)  0.226/.258/.403 in 460 PA (0.238/.284/.408) [Type B]

Josh Bard (32)  0.230/.293/.361 in 301 PA (0.259/.326/.389)

Michael Barrett (33)  0.167/.211/.333 in 19 PA (0.263/.320/.422) [Club Option]

Henry Blanco (38)  0.235/.320/.382 in 232 PA (0.228/.292/.366)

Ramon Castro (34)  0.219/.292/.406 in 171 PA (0.233/.308/.415)

Sal Fasano (38) played in Triple-A during the 2009 season.  That’s a no, moving on!

Toby Hall (34) did not play in 2009.

Ramon Hernandez (34)  0.258/.336/.362 in 331 PA (0.262/.327/.417) [$8.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout - Type B]

Jason Kendall (36)  0.241/.331/.305 in 526 PA (0.290/.369/.383) [Type B]

Jason LaRue (36)  0.240/.288/.327 in 112 PA (0.232/.316/.398)

Jose Molina (35)  0.217/.292/.268 in 135 PA (0.235/.277/.332)

Mike Redmond (39)  0.237/.299/.289 in 147 PA (0.289/.345/.361)

Ivan Rodriguez (38)  0.249/.280/.384 in 448 PA (0.299/.336/.471) [Type B]

Brian Schneider (33)  0.218/.292/.335 in 194 PA (0.251/.323/.374) [Type B]

Yorvit Torrealba (31)  0.291/.351/.380 in 242 PA (0.255/315/.390) [$4MM mutual option with a $500K buyout]

Javier Valentin (34) played in Triple-A during 2009.

Jason Varitek (38)  0.209/.313/.390 in 425 PA (0.259/.344/.435) [$5MM club/$3MM player option plus incentives - Type B]

Vance Wilson (37) played in Double-A for the NW Arkansas Naturals during 2009.

Gregg Zaun (39)  0.260/.345/.416 in 296 PA (0.251/.344/.388) [$2MM club option with a $500K buyout; Zaun can void option]

Maybe paying John Buck $4 million for his services in 2010 wouldn’t be such a bad idea.  That fact aside, the two best options for the Royals next season would be either Brad Ausmus or Gregg Zaun.  Neither would be able to handle the lion’s share of the innings behind the plate, but both would be excellent mentors and instructors for Brayan Pena and would have significant value beyond what they do at the plate.  Both backstops would also be solid late-inning defensive replacements for Pena if he continues to struggle defensively.

Of course the above list completely ignores my offseason plan.  Coming soon, I will identify a few minor league options playing for other organizations that could be acquired via trade.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Bengie Molina Brad Ausmus Brayan Pena Brian Schneider Gregg Zaun Henry Blanco Ivan Rodriguez Jason Kendall Jason LaRue Jason Varitek Javier Valentin John Buck Jose Molina Josh Bard Kansas City Royals KC Michael Barrett Miguel Olivo Mike Redmond MLB Paul Bako Ramon Castro Ramon Hernandez Rod Barajas Royals Sal Fasano Toby Hall Vance Wilson Victor Martinez Yorvit Torrealba

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