Rebuilding the Twins: Catcher
With the calendar turning to September, major league rosters expand to 40 players. This allows teams out of playoff contention to begin to look to the future, and allows playoff teams to rest key starters. The Twins will be using the expanded roster to fill spots vacant by a plague of injuries that have hit the club throughout this year.
Over the next 2 weeks, I will be taking an in-depth look at who the Twins could potentially be starting at each position next year. First up on the list is catcher.
Perhaps the area the Twins have felt the sting of the injury bug the most this season is at catcher. Franchise star Joe Mauer, fresh off a huge contract extension, began the season on the disabled list with “bilateral leg-weakness” and has never looked comfortable in the batter’s box. Mauer is usually good for a batting average well over .300 and will also contribute lots of doubles as well as a handful of homeruns. But on top of all of this is his incredible plate discipline as Mauer usually walks more times than he strikes out over the course of a season. This year however, Mauer has shown very little power, a batting average below .300, and has struck out more times than he has walked. Mauer’s ability has never been in question. The issue that is raised most often is his durability, as Mauer has missed chunks of time with various injuries on almost a yearly basis. This is where the question of a position shift has been raised, and Mauer has started games at DH, first base and right field this year in addition to catching. The Twins have been adamant that any position shift with Mauer is simply a way to keep him in the lineup on days that he doesn’t catch, much like the way the Tigers have been using Victor Martinez. Martinez is the Tiger’s primary designated hitter, but does still catch a few games a week. But if someone is going to fill Mauer’s position on a more regular basis, it will need to be someone that can hit at least a little bit. Due to Mauer’s injuries, Drew Butera and Rene Rivera have each received a large amount of playing time, and have both combined to hit under .200. Let’s now look at the candidates to catch next season:
Mauer: Mauer seems the most likely candidate to continue to catch. The injuries are beginning to become a concern, but if Mauer is moved to another position, such as first base, then someone would need to replace him behind the plate.
Drew Butera: Butera has been Mauer’s primary backup all season, and is also Carl Pavano’s personal catcher. Butera has a great relationship with the pitching staff, and is a good defensive catcher. His hitting, or lack thereof, is the concern. Butera is hitting .168 on the year, and actually has the most homeruns of any Twins catcher with 2. Butera can be viewed as a backup catcher at best, and if the Twins did end up moving Mauer from behind the plate, someone else would probably need to be brought in to take a majority of the starts.
Rene Rivera: While Mauer was on the disabled list, Rivera became the backup catcher to Drew Butera. And while Rivera was brought in as a free agent, not many people thought we would see as much of Rivera as we have this year. Rivera is also not known for his offense, and is hitting .160 on the year. Rivera most certainly wouldn’t fit into the Twins plan for the future, as a starter and backup are most commonly used and not 2 backups.
Prospects: The closest the Twins have come to a legitimate catching prospect in the last few years was Wilson Ramos. Unfortunately he was shipped to Washington last year in exchange for Matt Capps. Had the decision been made to move Mauer, Ramos would have been the hands down favorite to step behind the plate. Ramos showed potential in a handful of games before he was traded, and has played most of the year for the Nationals this season and fits into their long term plans. The Twins do not currently possess much depth at catcher throughout their organization. This could be remedied by an offseason trade, or by drafting a catcher in next year’s draft. One thing is clear though, If Mauer is moved to another position, his replacement will not be coming from the farm system.
Free Agents: The free agent list of catchers for this coming offseason is not one that will blow you away. There are bargains that would be intriguing options should the need arise. Catchers such as Kelly Shoppach of the Rays and Ryan Doumit of the Pirates have both had injury filled seasons and would come at a bargain price. Although it is highly unlikely he won’t be resigned, the Cardinals Yadier Molina is probably the best option on the list and would give the Twins a talented defensive catcher who can also handle the bat well.
Gut Feeling: I have a hard time picturing the Twins going with anyone other than Mauer at catcher next season. Hopefully he will be able to take the entire offseason to strengthen his legs and fully heal so he can get back to the numbers many fans are so accustomed to seeing.