In order to make room on the 40 man roster so they could add newly acquired Jason Vargas, the Royals have designated catcher George Kottaras for assignment. If Kottaras clears waivers, he could elect to become a free agent or accept a minor league assignment.
Kottaras was coming off a season in which he posted a line of .180/.349/.370, good enough for a wRC+ of 102. One may look at Kottaras’ sub-Mendoza Line batting average and think he was not a productive hitter. However, thanks to a BB% of 19 and an ISO of .190, there were only 5 Royals’ hitters with more than 100 plate appearances who put up a higher wRC+. Defensively, Kottaras was not exactly a Gold Glove-type player. He allowed 3 passed balls in 39 games, and opposing basestealers were successful 74% of the time. Despite his defensive shortcomings, however, Kottaras was worth 0.7 fWAR while playing in about 1/4 of the season. For a backup catcher playing behind Salvador Perez, that is certainly acceptable in my opinion. Apparently the Royals disagreed.
Normally I wouldn’t bemoan the loss of a backup catcher with limited overall upside, and I fully understand the move itself doesn’t hold that much weight in regards to the future of the Royals. I’m also aware that either Kottaras or Brett Hayes would have had to be let go before the start of the season, since neither player had any options, and the Royals wouldn’t want to carry three catchers on the big league roster. With the addition of Francisco Pena, one of the potential backups would find himself out of Kansas City eventually.
But why did it have to be Kottaras, and why did it have to happen now?
Kottaras isn’t a great catcher. However, he’s still under team control for a pretty affordable cost, and I would argue he’s a better option for Perez’s backup than Hayes. Kottaras has something that is incredibly rare on the Royals’ roster: the ability to get on base. Kottaras’ .349 OBP was the 5th highest among Royals with at least 100 plate appearances and the team OBP was just .315. The fact that the organization would get rid of a player with on-base skills speaks to the Royals’ philosophy of where they believe offense comes from. They don’t value the ability to get on base, despite all evidence pointing to it being far more important than something like batting average.
A team’s offensive goal should always be to get on base. A run cannot score unless a player is on base. This is a fact. It’s in books and everything.
The Royals just don’t seem to care.
Again, I don’t want to sound like I see this decision as the end of the world. I like Hayes as a catcher. He’s probably a tad bit better defensively than Kottaras, still offers a little pop with the bat, and more than likely won’t bring negative value to the Royals in the 40 games he plays in 2014. He just doesn’t offer as much as Kottaras does offensively, so I disagree with the move. Kottaras’ skillset has been (predictably) underappreciated by this team.
Both Kottaras and Hayes could fit in on several rosters throughout the league, so I found it kind of odd for the Royals to get rid of a player who may have some trade value. Neither player would bring a huge haul, but a competent backup catcher certainly has some value. There are other players occupying a roster spot who almost assuredly have no future with the team who could have – and should have – been released prior to settling on one of the catchers.
Most notably, Chris Getz.
I won’t rehash the mountain of evidence showing Getz to be a below average major league player, and to a certain extent, I kind of expected Dayton Moore to hold onto his deflated balloon until the non-tender deadline in December. And yet, I still found myself struggling to find an explanation for Getz being kept on the roster while a player who actually brought positive value was designated for assignment. Getz is set to make roughly $1.3 million in arbitration this season, which is more than a player of his ability should be making, so it would be silly for the Royals to tender him a contract. With the deadline just a couple of weeks away, why would the Royals choose to keep him now, knowing they have other plans for their second base position in 2014? Getz’s trade value is incredibly low, and would only be included as a throw-in for any trade the Royals make. It just makes no sense to keep him on the roster while letting go of Kottaras.
As long as Perez stays healthy, any backup catcher isn’t going to be able to contribute all that much on the whole. However, a team like the Royals must maximize their bench potential, and I think there is a dropoff from Kottaras to Hayes. I believe there were better options for the Royals to release, and the strategy in getting rid of an on-base guy like Kottaras is a flawed one. All that being said, I must reiterate that I know that losing Kottaras isn’t going to have more than about a half-win impact on the Royals’ 2014 record, and I’m still excited to see what moves the front office makes next to boost the team’s playoff chances for the upcoming season.