Can Royals Rely on Brett Hayes as Their Backup Catcher?


Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

When the Royals traded George Kottaras to the Cubs last month, they appeared to be opening the door for Brett Hayes to claim the backup catcher position in Kansas City for next season. With Salvador Perez and the newly signed Francisco Pena on the roster, the team seemed to be all set at catcher.

Then, on December 11, Jon Heyman tweeted out that the Royals were looking for help at catcher.

Why the Royals traded away the only other catcher on the roster with major league experience – for cash, nonetheless* – only to turn around and suggest they need another catcher, remains a mystery to me. Kottaras is a superior player to Hayes, so if the team didn’t think Hayes could handle the position, why wouldn’t they designate him for assignment instead of Kottaras?

*Brief note: The Braves just sent one of their top 10 prospects to the Twins for a backup catcher, Ryan Doumit, who’s worse than Kottaras defensively and roughly equal to him on offense. The Royals received a stack of money.

Regardless of Heyman’s tweet, the organization has yet to grab another catcher from the free agent market, and there really aren’t a ton of great options to be had. I suppose they could sign Yorvit Torrealba, or consider a reunion with Miguel Olivo, John Buck, or Humberto Quintero, but each of those players would probably take more money to sign than what Kottaras will make in 2014, and since the team seemed to indicate part of the reasoning for letting go of Kottaras was his salary, I don’t think Dayton Moore would want to go that route.

At least at this point in time, Hayes looks to be the best option available to back up Perez behind the dish. Since Perez will probably be starting 130 games at catcher, Hayes shouldn’t have to worry too much about being overexposed, either offensively or defensively. For the Royals, that’s a very good thing, as Hayes has a career line of .220/.266/.374 in 375 plate appearances.

In his minor league career, Hayes has been just slightly better, hitting .249/.301/.392 in 1,953 plate appearances spanning 8 seasons. He doesn’t have great plate discipline, with a walk rate of 6.6% in the minors and 5.6% in the majors. What Hayes did show quite a bit of in 2013, however, was power from the right side. In Omaha, his ISO was .247 in almost 300 plate appearances, and in his 18 plate appearance stint in the big leagues, his ISO was .333. Given his career history, I don’t think that is anything more than a statistical outlier, but still an interesting note.

Steamer projects Hayes for a line of .233/.280/.391 in 98 plate appearances next year, good enough for 0.3 fWAR. Obviously you’d like to see better offense, but Hayes does provide a bit of value with his defense to help cover for that. He’s not a savant behind the plate, but Hayes does have a decent arm, throwing out would-be base stealers at about a league average rate.

As long as Perez stays healthy, Hayes won’t have enough playing time to make a huge impact on the Royals overall record. He likely won’t win any games for you, but he also shouldn’t lose any, either. With the way the Royals’ bench is shaping up, I think I would prefer to have a backup catcher who hits left-handed to offer more pinch-hitting ability (hmmm…where could the Royals find that?) but Hayes is a suitable backup catcher, particularly when the starter is one of the best in the league.