The goal of this series is to take a look at what we have in the system for each position as well as what might be available this off-season. We’ll start with the catcher position. Enjoy.
What We Have
Geovany Soto: (1st year arbitration eligible) – You’d have to imagine that Geo is locked in for the future with this organization. He had a nice rebound year after a bit of a sophomore slump and is among one of the best offensive catchers in the game at this time. He’s low priced and entering the first year of arbitration. The Cubs have a history of not taking things to that level, with the exception of Ryan Theriot last year, so you’d have guess that Geo will either get a one year deal to avoid arbitration or a deal that would buy out the three arbitration years. (Ranked: 6th in MLB in VORP among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances)
Koyie Hill: (2nd year arbitration eligible) – It’s tough to say what we’ll see happen with Hill this off-season. On one hand, I could see the Cubs bringing him back to serve as the backup catcher, but in 2010 he made $700k. A way to shed a small amount of payroll would be to decline to offer arbitration on Hill, essentially making him a free agent, then either discuss a lower salary or even a minor league deal. If he doesn’t want to do that, which I can certainly understand if he feels he can get a Major League job somewhere else, then you move on. At this point, for what he brings offensively, I think we’d be better off conserving money at the backup catcher position and going with youth from the system.
What is on the Horizon
Wellington Castillo – The top catching prospect in the system got a look at the Major League level late in the year when Geo went down, but didn’t see as much action as I’d have liked to see. He’s got power, but needs to work on hitting for average at a better rate. In under 300 plate appearances over the course AAA and ML, in 2010, he hit 14 HR and drove in 64. The drawback to those numbers is the low average and on base % (.259 / .318) and a 3 to 1 strike out to walk ratio.
Robinson Chirinos – Spent his 4th year in AA this year, hitting .318 / .412 / .580 before a promotion to AAA where he hit even better, .364 / .465 / .600. He’s not a top prospect in the system but probably deserves a look at this point.
Steve Clevenger – Versatile catcher that can also play 1B and 2B. Doesn’t hit the ball out of the park with any regularity, but has a decent arm and can hit the ball in the gap.
Notable Names Available via Free Agency
Brad Ausmus – Older than dirt, but still in the league.
Rod Barajas – Spent time with the Mets and the Dodgers in 2010. Nearing the tail end of his career, but may not be worth the money it would take to get him to serve as a backup.
Victor Martinez – One of the better offensive catchers in the game. He’ll probably be re-signed by Boston.
A.J. Pierzynski – I’m a big A.J. fan for the simple reason that he plays the game balls to the wall every minute he’s out there.
Jason Varitek – It’s hard to believe it, but this guy has been in the league for 14 years and has gotten old in a hurry.
Joe’s Best Course of Action
Overall, I’m satisfied with what we have in house at this position. I’d like to see Jim Hendry work out a deal with Geo to buy out his three arbitration years and go from there. He’s going to be the starting catcher for the next few years, at least until Castillo has a chance to fully develop his craft down on the farm. At that point you can evaluate what you have with Geo and either commit to him long term or go in a different direction with Castillo and look to move Soto before his contract his up. As far as the backup spot is concerned, I look to Chirinos to fill that spot for next year, not because I think he’s better than Castillo, but because he’s less valuable long term to the organization. This would allow Castillo to continue to get his at bats while giving a guy like Chirinos a chance to show he can hit at the Major League level. It would also allow us to at least have a shot at having some offensive ability behind the plate when Geo is off. For the last few years, when Soto has taken a day or two off, we’ve basically had to hope we got something from Koyie and that rarely happened. He handles the pitching staff well, but I’m going to save the money at this spot and go with youth to fill that backup role.
1. Do you believe in Geo as the future of this organization at the catcher position?
2. Would you like to see the Cubs bring back Koyie Hill as the backup? If not, who?
3. How good to you feel about the catcher position going into 2011?