As a new year in baseball kicks off and free agency ramps up, I want to do a position-by-position breakdown across the AL East, looking at where the Orioles compare to the other teams in the best division in baseball. The first position I’ll look at is the position of catcher.
1. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles, believe it or not, have the best catcher in the division. No, Wieters is never going to live up to the expectations that many had for him at the plate, but it is what he does behind it that sets him apart. In a division full of unproven players and journeymen behind the plate, Wieters has little competition. Despite not winning this year, Wieters has two Gold Gloves, and also is a two-time All-Star. He played in the most games in his career in 2013, 140 of them coming behind the plate, posting a .243 batting average. But Matt also led the AL in sacrifice flies, and rates as one of the top defensive catchers in almost every category. The offense may not always be there, but Wieters continues to be a necessary cog for the Orioles team.
In Clevenger, the O’s have a local boy who did not have much of a chance to show what he can do. He grades out better as a hitter than a fielder, and that may work against him due to Buck Showalter’s propensity to have good defensive catchers. But, Clevenger is the backup, and some feel he will be a suitable one. I do expect the Orioles to add at least a veteran, maybe bringing back either Taylor Teagarden or Chris Snyder for a training camp invite to see if they can beat out Clevenger.
2. Boston Red Sox
With Jarrod Saltamacchia a free agent, the Red Sox top catcher on their current roster is David Ross. With Salty, the Red Sox collective experience would have rated them ahead of the O’s. Ross has not started more than 62 games since 2007, and is a career .237 average hitter. He is much better behind the plate than in beside it, but still the numbers aren’t all that impressive. Lavarnway is certainly intriguing compared to Ross, but the 24-year-old only has 88 plate appearances spread across three seasons, and the results at the plate have not been overly successful, with a career .209 average.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
Arencibia is another first round draft choice, drafted 21st overall in 2007. And he is another who has struggled at the plate. He has decent power and 2B numbers throughout his three-year major league career, but is only a .212 hitter, including hitting below the Mendoza line (.194) in 2013. Arencibia had a rough year behind the plate as well in 2013, leading the AL in passed balls, something that has plagued him throughout his career. Thole, the former starting catcher for the Mets, is the main backup, while Jimenez has never played in the majors, but is on the Blue Jays 40-man roster.
4. New York Yankees
The Yankees rank ahead of the Rays on volume and potential. Stewart is not a guy that is going to get anyone excited, but he is a good defensive catcher. Romine is the one that everyone in the Yankees system is waiting to blossom, but hasn’t yet. Rated as a top 100 prospect by Baseball America in 2010 and 2011, Romine has struggled to make it to the majors, and stay there and play well enough to be the everyday starter. In 2013, he played in 60 games for the Yankees, hitting .207 with only 1 HR. Murphy saw some mop-up duty at catcher late in the season for New York, playing in 16 games. Cervelli remains the intriguing name. The Yankees played him all around the field in 2013, and he filled in admirably defensively. It appears that his days behind the plate may be over, and if that is the case, the Yankees probably would fall to having the worst group of catchers in the division.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
Lobaton is known more for his hitting ability, including his home runs than he is for his work behind the plate. The numbers show he only threw out 14 percent of base-stealers, allowing 63 stolen bases while only catching 10 runners. His fielding percentage was quite good in 2013, but overall Lobaton is more of an offensive catcher. With Jose Molina a free agent, and ending up not being the starter by the end of 2013 over Lobaton as it is, barring a move in free agency Lobaton will be the Rays’ catcher in 2014.
Now, this breakdown looks at the position and each team as rosters are currently made up. There is A LOT that could happen at this position. The Yankees, Rays and Red Sox could all try to sign a catcher, with names like Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz and Saltalamacchia as possible candidates. In addition, a lot of people feel the Orioles may trade Wieters, despite Dan Duquette saying he is a piece the team wants to build around. I don’t think the Jays will be looking to add a piece, as their needs lie more on the pitching side of the battery, but this is a view of the state of the current catcher position in the AL East.