Let's not beat around the bush here. There were two positions on the diamond that were an absolute abomination to the team when it came to that position's turn in the lineup. The first is the shortstop position which I have touched on multiple times here and the second is the catcher position. I know, you already knew the two positions I was referring to.
The near automatic out that came to the plate in the form of the Rays catcher wanted to make us either change the channel or channel our inner most strength to keep us from throwing up in our mouths. Yes, it was that bad.
The below-replacement level production we garnered from the catcher position was a putrid .194/.274/.333 that was good for a 72 wRC+ and 73 OPS+. Thanks to guys like Jeff Mathis, Drew Butera, and Carlos Corporan, the Rays actually were not last in the Majors when it came to offensive production from the catcher's slot but that is still no excuse for such a horrific stat line.
To make matters worse, the Rays catchers overall value was only +1.3 fWAR which was the sixth worst total in the Majors. The base running was horrible and the defense was only kept above water due to Kelly Shoppach's fine season behind the dish, not at the dish. Apparently, Rob Johnson played every game at catcher for the Rays this past year.
Is there an answer out there to the problem that the Rays have at catcher? Options are slim but there are options. Let's take a look.
The free agent market isn't exactly stacked and, if it were, would the Rays even be players for a top catcher on the open market? Doubt it.
The Rays currently have John Jaso, Robinson Chirinos, and Jose Lobaton as internal options that all will be making league minimum or very close to it. None of this group performed well last year outside of their walk rates. Each had negative totals in base running and defense and Jaso was the best with the bat with a wRC+ of 82.
Kelly Shoppach has a club option for $3.2M with a $300K buyout. Shoppach's defense helped him out-earn his cost last year with +1.1 fWAR worth roughly $5M but $3.2M seems a bit steep for the cash strapped Rays especially when that player had a wRC+ of 72. The Rays may be inclined to decline this option and try and sign him at a cheaper rate or test free agency.
Here is who is available in free agency according to Cot's:
Rod Barajas LAD
Henry Blanco ARI
Ramon Castro CWS
Ryan Doumit PIT*
Ramon Hernandez CIN
Jason Kendall KC
Gerald Laird STL
Jose Molina TOR
Yadier Molina STL *
Dioner Navarro LAD
Jorge Posada NYY
Ivan Rodriguez WAS
Brian Schneider PHI
Kelly Shoppach TB *
Chris Snyder PIT *
Matt Treanor KC
Jason Varitek BOS
The Rays will likely stay away from the guys worse than our current crew. You know, the Kendalls, Vartieks, and Navarros of the world. I see little chance that Yadier Molina's option is not picked up but if it isn't he becomes the best catcher on the market and out of the Rays price range. Same goes for Hernandez, Barajas, and Posada who cannot even play catcher any more.
Ryan Doumit is an intriguing name but the injuries are a big concern and there likely will be a solid market for him once his options are declined. If not then he could be a good fit but it's not likely. I see the market being even better for Snyder and his option could be picked up by the Pirates.
The Rays best bet in the free agent market is Shoppach or maybe Jose Molina or Matt Treanor. Honestly, I'd rather have Shoppach who knows the pitching staff, plays solid defense, and still mashed leftied with a 124 wRC+ against them.
You could try and trade for a catcher but Devin Mesoraco will cost you James Shields. Geovany Soto may be available but he might make upwards of $5M next year and what will the cost in trade be? The Nationals have interest in starting pitching and B.J. Upton but I find it highly unlikely that Wilson Ramos is available and Derek Norris is at least a full year or two away.
The best trade option would be to call Colorado up and inquire on Chris Iannetta. He is under contract for 2012 at $3.55M with a 2013 option at $5M with a $250K buyout. At worst he will cost $3.8M next year. The Rockies have Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco vying for an opportunity and the Rockies will listen to offers on Iannetta despite the fact that he was worth +3.3 fWAR and threw out 30% of attempted base stealers. Oh, that .370 OBP looks very nice as well.
If the Rays cannot make a reasonable trade for Iannetta or Soto or steal Ramos or Mesoraco away then I see them heading into 2012 with familiar faces hiding behind the catcher's mask.