Before we get started with this mailbag, please continue to send any questions you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org. This edition of the mailbag concerns the Rays catching situation:
Question: Should the Rays consider signing Mike Napoli, A.J. Pierzynski, or Russell Martin?
It's no secret the Rays catchers have historically struggled offensively. Dioner Navarro had a good 2008 and John Jaso was excellent in 2010, but there hasn't been much else to get excited about. The team picked up Jose Molina's option but he's here to handle the pitching staff and play defense - any offensive contributions are an added bonus. Currently there are five catchers under contract: Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton, Chris Gimenez, Robinson Chirinos, and Stephen Vogt.
Of those names only three, Molina, Lobaton and Gimenez, are viable options. Chirinos missed all of last season after suffering a concussion in spring training, and while it may be entertaining to keep Vogt around to see if he can extend his hitless streak, he's likely going to be used for depth at Triple-A. That leaves Lobaton and Gimenez to battle for the backup position behind Molina. Not exactly what you want offensively. Any of the three names the reader asked about would be an upgrade offensively but how likely are the Rays to sign them?
The answer is...not very likely. Napoli would be a very useful piece, a right handed power bat who can fill in at first base and DH as well. Only two other right handed hitters have more home runs over the past two years than Napoli's 54. Injuries limited him to only 108 games last season but he still managed 24 homers and hit better away from Arlington. The power and positional flexibility make him an attractive candidate for many teams, with the Yankees, Red Sox and Mariners reportedly interested. He made $9 million last season and I don't see him getting much less than that per year on the free market which puts him outside the Rays price range.
Unlike Napoli who is coming off somewhat of a down year, A.J. Pierzynski has the best season of his career at age 35. He hit 27 home runs, nine more than his previous career high and 10 more than 2010-2011 combined. There's little chance he continues that production in 2013 and beyond. He's the best full time catcher on the market, which should net him a multi-year contract. CBSSports lists the Rangers, Yankees, Mariners and Pirates as his possible suitors with the Rays as one of the long shot teams.
Russell Martin's 21 home runs look impressive but he was terrible outside of the month of September. His OPS for September was .886 while it only topped .700 one other month (.703 in June). He's just 29 and has a strong defensive reputation. In a study by current Houston Astros employee, and former Baseball Prospectus writer, Mike Fast showed that Martin ranked second behind Jose Molina in inducing extra strikes from pitch framing. He'd likely benefit from splitting time behind the plate, having never caught fewer than 114 games in any full season. His 894 games caught rank ninth among active catchers. Only Yadier Molina and Brian McCann have caught more games at the same age or younger.
The catching market is thin. Career backup David Ross got a two year, $6.2 million deal from the Red Sox. If he's able to pull down that kind of money what can established starters like Napoli, Pierzynski and Martin expect?
The Rays could use an upgrade at catcher. No one is debating that. But with Jose Molina they've been willing to give up some offense for the value on the defensive end. The players in question will all fall out of the Rays price range any way. If an upgrade is made it will come via trade. As of now the Rays look to be ready to go into battle with Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton or Chris Gimenez as his backup. To answer the question, yes, the Rays should consider signing Napoli, Pierzynski or Martin, it just has a low probability of happening.