17 January 2011
2011 Preview - Catcher
You know things aren't as you'd want them when your 2011 preview begins with a photo of Dioner Navarro from five years (and about 50 pounds) ago.
With Spring Training but a month away, I figure I'll do a position-by-position breakdown of the Dodgers as they look heading into camp. I'll go over each guy Ned has conned into signing on to this sinking ship as well as provide a list of the stiffs invited to Camelback Ranch in hopes of being this year's Garret Anderson.
Today we start with the backstops, a group of fellows so pathetic even Barnum would send them away.
It doesn't seem too long ago that catcher was a no-brainer leading into Spring Training, with one of the league's most exciting young stars in Russell Martin manning the position with an impressive display of spirit and athleticism. But, alas, Martin is gone, having lugged his "distractions" to New York without even bothering to to make the customary pit stop in Miami.
While Martin was undoubtedly one of the biggest Dodger disappointments of the past few campaigns, his faults weren't nearly as bad as we made them out to be. Even though he wasn't the hotshot he had been from 2006 to the 2008 All-Star Game (when, ironically enough, he put on a spectacular show catching much of a marathon in the Bronx), Martin was still a lock to put up a .350 OBP (last season's .347 was the lowest of his career and one of the highest on the team) and is still only 27. He had regressed from being one of the top hitting catchers in the league to simply middle-of-the-pack but would have fit into our lineup well enough at the number two slot. Now it looks likely that Juan Uribe will hit there even though he has a legitimate medical allergy to getting on base.
This is not to say that I haven't pulled hair out of my head over Russell's awfulness. But who knows what might have been if Grady Little and Joe Torre had only discovered their balls and forced Martin to sit out a game or two every once in a while. Whether it was the distractions of a Hollywood lifestyle or simply the wear and tear of catching over 150 games per season, Martin lost whatever it was that made him a special player. We couldn't really waste $5 million on a player like him, seemingly in decline and coming off a season-ending hip injury, right?
Well, no - that wouldn't be advisable, but neither would be giving Rod Barajas, age 35 and fat, and Dioner Navarro, soon to be 27 and also fat, a combined $4.25 million instead. Now I've got nothing against fat people, but as you'll see as this preview continues, we've got an epidemic on our hands with this team and I don't see them as particularly resilient or athletic. Barajas, who provides a bit of pop to the lineup that Martin had long misplaced, compensates for this positive attribute with questionable skills behind the plate and a very negative sub-.300 career OBP. We'll get into how much the latter might hurt us later in the preview.
Barajas's new cohort Navarro, whose job as Dodgers catcher had originally been swashbuckled away by Martin himself, is coming off two seasons in Tampa Bay that make Juan Castro look like Ty Cobb. Not only is Navarro an abortion at the plate, he quit on the Rays last year after losing his job to John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach, electing to go home instead of staying on with the team as a potential emergency addition during their postseason series against the Rangers. Naturally Ned Colletti figured him to be an ample candidate for a guaranteed $1 million contract. I mean, why not? He only put up a .197/.270/.258 slash line last season, meaning his slugging percentage was a mere eleven points higher than Martin's batting average.
Signing two catchers for $4.25 million may seem like a good idea if you have a complete vacancy at the catching position. Despite Ned's best effort in ridding himself of valuable catching prospects, the Dodgers still have A.J. Ellis. While he may not be considered overly valuable, nor much of a prospect now that he's over 30, he does provide solid defense and a .363 on-base percentage. It's hard to argue that saving money on Martin was a good idea when Colletti is so willing to waste his resources on useless things like a spare Dioner Navarro. It's even harder to argue that Barajas/Navarro will be better than a younger Martin/Ellis duo. You can't underestimate the value of youth, considering our only real catching prospect looks to be a few years away from potentially taking a spot on the big league depth chart. Ned's moves have not even considered what we'll do in 2012. Hopefully he and McCourt won't be around by then to figure that one out.
From the sound of Mattingly's interviews the past few weeks, Barajas enters camp as the favorite to secure the starting job, though that's nowhere near set in stone and the switch-hitting Navarro is expected to put in some serious innings. Even if Ellis continues his streak of solid hitting from the end of 2010, I can't see this squad taking on a third catcher and both of the other guys have guaranteed contracts (dammit Ned) going into 2011. Still, I can't imagine Barajas and Navarro to both stay healthy the entire season, meaning that we'll probably see A.J. serve some insurance time at Chavez Ravine. That I'm excited at the possibility for A.J. Ellis to catch says all you to need to say about the state of our catching.
Note - there's actually one other catcher on our 40-man roster, 28 year-old Hector Gimenez. I know, right? Who the hell is that guy? Allegedly he saw two at-bats for Houston in 2006, striking out in one of them, likely grounding out weakly to the pitcher in his other. I assume he's just there to provide depth. You could make the case that perhaps he's on the 40-man as insurance for if Ned feels like he can get anything in a trade for Ellis. There were rumors last spring that KC was green on A.J., but Ned eventually traded the wrong catcher for a piece of garbage. Ellis may eventually be on the radar of a team that finds itself lacking depth or hurt by injuries during camp.
Also getting invites to Spring Training are former Rockie J.D. Closser, who has spent the last two years in the Dodgers' system as a Crash Davis type, and Damaso Espino, who I guess can catch and has a pulse or something...
Full list of Spring Training Invitees here.
Predictions for Opening Day
Rod Barajas (starter)
Dioner Navarro (backup)
A.J. Ellis (Albuquerque)
Hector Gimenez (cut)
J.D. Closser (Albuquerque)
Damaso Espino (cut)
Next post will be on the first-base situation, where the best option the Dodgers have at Camelback Ranch will be this guy.