September 18, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher George Kottaras (14) at bat against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Market Fresh: George Kottaras

The Royals seem content with their roster at this point in the offseason, but I’m sure they’re kicking ideas around the front office. If there’s an opportunity to improve, they ought to be looking at it.

You have probably heard about the three-team trade that landed John Jaso in Oakland (and Michael Morse in Seattle and A.J. Cole in Washington). When Oakland acquired Jaso, they needed to clear a spot on the roster for him and designated catcher George Kottaras for assignment. The A’s have to release him or trade him after ten days of that transaction.

Looking at the Royals situation, they could use a backup catcher. Brayan Pena was let go and signed with Detroit, leaving Adam Moore, Manny Pina, and Brett Hayes (after he was claimed off waivers) as their backup options.

Assuming Salvador Perez stays healthy all season, he’s going to see 130 games and probably more. The impact of a backup catcher isn’t going to be very big, but still, if there’s a chance to improve that spot, why not go for it? Finding small improvements here and there can add up. And having a somewhat established backstop in place can help if an injury does occur. Last season, when Pina was already injured and Perez got hurt, the Royals were left with Pena and no other real plan, forcing them to go out and get Humberto Quintero.

Let’s compare career numbers:

Player Games PA BA OBP SLG OPS HR ISO oWAR
Kottaras 249 694 0.220 0.320 0.412 0.732 24 0.193 2.6
Hayes 143 357 0.217 0.266 0.361 0.627 8 0.144 -0.4
Moore 72 260 0.196 0.223 0.306 0.538 6 0.110 -0.2
Pena 335 954 0.248 0.286 0.350 0.635 14 0.102 -0.1

That’s a pretty stark difference between Kottaras and the rest of that group. Pena was always adequate in a backup role (and had 0.2 oWAR as a Royal) but not spectacular. He would have his hits here and there, showed a bit of power, but overall, he was still just a replacement level player. I suppose, in comparison, Hayes is most similar to Pena and right now he’s okay as the backup catcher entering 2013. But why not try to get a little extra out of that position? Even factoring in Kottaras’s defense (which lowers his bWAR to 1.7) he’s still at a decent level over his 694 PA career.

Kottaras is a Billy Beane type of player, which explains how he ended up in Oakland in the first place. He walks a lot (13.1% over his career) and has power. If the Royals were to acquire him, they’d find that on Perez’s off days, they’d have a capable bat in the lineup. No, the base hits probably wouldn’t be there, but he’ll probably continue to get on base well enough, and for a backup catcher, isn’t that like playing with house money? Kottaras is also left-handed, which could offer some pinch-hitting flexibility (but at least gives a team the opportunity to plan off days with platoon advantages in mind).

What about the financial side of things? The Royals are already over budget in regards to payroll, so another acquisition just keeps that moving. Hayes was arbitration eligible and agreed to a $600,000 deal with the Royals shortly after being claimed. Kottaras had agreed to $1 million with Oakland before he’d been designated. Moore and Pina are both in the minors and were cleared off the 40 man roster, so if the Royals did get Kottaras, Hayes would probably be a roster casualty (and his one-year deal would not be guaranteed). In the end, the Royals don’t end up on the hook for much more by choosing Kottaras over Hayes. Financial aspects shouldn’t be much of a consideration if they think he’s the player they want.

Of course, walkrate and isolated power aside, Kottaras was designated for assignment last July before being traded from Milwaukee to Oakland, and now he finds himself cut loose. When I suggested the Royals go after Kottaras recently on Twitter, Greg Schaum of Pine Tar Press reminded me of a reason why the catcher might be available. He “can’t catch“. The statistics and scouting agree on this point. He’s a negative defensive runs saved (DRS) catcher over his career and has thrown out only 16% of would-be base stealers in the majors. Hayes, by comparison, hasn’t saved any runs according to DRS, but he has thrown out 26% of runners as a big leaguer. He’s considered much better behind the plate.

So it comes down to this: for 30 games, do you want a catcher who can produce runs when called into duty (but is a butcher behind the plate) or an average catcher defensively who would produce similarly to Brayan Pena’s career numbers? To me, there’s some upside to be found with Kottaras, and if the Royals find themselves in position to get him without giving up more than just cash, they should take that chance.

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