The Catching Conundrum: What To Do With Kelly Shoppach?

For this most part, I've reconciled myself with the Rays' roster. There were times early this season where the Rays' roster choices left me feeling confused, angered, disappointed -- but those days have passed me by and I'm feeling pretty content with how things are at the moment. Andy Sonnanstine is back in the bullpen; Sam Fuld is back to being used as a fourth outfielder; Elliot Johnson is no longer starting on a regular basis (well, he's injured, but it still holds); and Matt Joyce is settling in as an (near) everyday player in right field. With Desmond Jennings coming up (hopefully) sometime within the next month, it seems like the dark days are past us.

So when I look at the roster these days, my eye is getting increasingly drawn toward one position: catcher. While the Rays are actually getting good production out of first base, left field (Justin Ruggs!), and their designated hitter spot, the catcher's spot has devolved into a black hole:

John Jaso: .234 / .301 / .363 (.297 wOBA)

Kelly Shoppach: .159 / .242 / .239 (.226 wOBA)

Jaso may not be the reincarnation of Buster Posey (too soon?), but he's been around what you'd expect from him: he hits for a low average, walks around 8-10% of the time, hits for a modicum of power, and is below-average defensively. His average should come up to around the .250 level, bouncing up the rest of his stats as well, making him a decent-enough option behind the plate. At 27-years-old, it's unlikely that he develops into anything more than what he is right now, but hey, he's still loads better than Navarro was.

Kelly Shoppach, though....I don't even know what to say about that line. Shoppach's wOBA ranks him as one of the worst hitters in the majors this season -- 11th worst, if you're curious -- and he doesn't look anything like the masher the Rays traded for before the 2010 season. In 2009, Shoppach posted a .442 wOBA against left-handed pitchers, slugging .624 against them. This season, his OPS against lefties is lower than that -- a mere .612.

To be entirely fair, Shoppach hasn't been given many chances to succeed this season. He's faced around an equal number of right-handed and left-handed pitchers, and he's played infrequently. He's been quoted recently expressing frustration at his playing time, making it sound like he believes he plays better when playing on a more regular basis, and maybe there's something to that. At the very least, the current situation isn't working out; for whatever the reason, Shoppach has never been the player the Rays were hoping for when they acquired him.

So what should the Rays do? Shoppach is under contract through the remainder of this season ($3 million salary), but then the Rays have a club option on him, which they'll almost certainly decline. Should the Rays release Shoppach and call up someone from the minors? The obvious choice for a call-up is Jose Lobaton, who is a good defensive catcher and has crushed the ball this season. Do the Rays put Shopp on the DL for a bit, giving themselves a trial period to see how Lobaton does? Or do they stick with Shoppach, trusting that he's bound to regress somewhat going forward? I mean, he certainly can't get much worse.

I can't really say that I have an answer to all these questions: what do you guys think? Shoppach did post a .366 wOBA against left-handed pitchers last season, so I can't help but believe he'll turn it around this season if given time. But if the Rays aren't likely to bring him back next season anyway, should we bother waiting? I could go either way, but I would really like to see Lobaton get a chance in the majors sometime this season.

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