View From The Bleachers

October 18, 2010

Offseason Outlook: Catcher

Filed under: Featured,General — Joe Aiello @ 12:00 pm

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.

Three Questions

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?
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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids and helps people protect their assets as an independent insurance agent. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail

  • mrbaseball2usa

    1. I firmly believe in Geo. Love the kid. Hope we can lock him up for awhile (plus, I finally get to hear we have a position player that came up through the farm system).
    2. Another AB with Koyie Hill in a Cubs uni is one too many. I was a big Blanco fan, until I looked at his stats at the end of this year, and he barely nosed Hill on effectiveness, so I am not as upset that we kept him. Regardless, he needs to be gone, and let’s suit Castro up as the backup.
    3. See No. 1. Geo had great OBP, drew walks, and still hit for decent power. Any time the 2-spot isn’t a giant suck in the batting order, you’re doing well.

    Go Cubs in 2011!

  • Chet

    I would like to see Barajas as backup…..good veteran for a position that needs veteran leadership.

  • Joe Aiello

    When do we consider Geo a veteran? He’s 27 years old. I’d consider him the vet right now, but not sure how others feel about that.

  • greg

    I really think Geo is the third best of the three (Chirinos and Castillo)but with saying that i think he has a great future and i wouldnt mind it if they gave him a 4 or 5 year deal. He would be the mature vet they need when the “rebuilding” is done. I think he could handle .280 to .290 and 20 to 25 hrs the length of the contract. Keep Castillo on the team over the next few years and see if you could get good return in a trade on him or Chirinos and who knows maybe one of those two could be better than Geo.

  • Joe Aiello

    Chirinos isn’t better than either of them. He’s just recently started to have success at the AA level and that was after spending way too much time at that level. He’ll also be 27 next year.

  • wax_eagle

    I thought Ausmus announced his retirement?

    1. yes Geo is it for the foreseeable future. If he continues the commitment to fitness he had this past off season then he deserves to the be the starter until someone serious supplants him.

    2. While backup catcher is important (ideally he starts 40ish games a year). Its not the most important position on the team. We should let Koyie go and thank him for his heart and service. Let on of the young kids learn the craft at the big league level. If Castillo needs more time then let Chirinos or Clevinger come up and get some service time until Castillo is ready then make a decision.

    3. Honestly this position is so often an offensive black hole that getting 2+ WAR out of Geo is plenty for me. If he can continue to play at the 3.5 WAR level that he played this past year that would be more than satisfactory.

  • jswanson

    1. Yep. Geo is our guy.

    2. Before seeing Geo Jr. play last month, I would have said yes. Now, I’m on the let-the-kids-play bandwagon, as far as backup catchers are concerned. I also would have Scales on the roster, so I’m not the right guy to make said call.

    3. Solid. Hill beat out Hank, and will likely be beat out by one of the minor leaguers. Geo’s numbers will be solid.

  • Buddy

    Soto is rock solid. Now to find a backup who can actually hit a little. (David Ross perhaps?) Koyie Hill is absolutley brutal. PLEASE don’t bring him back.

  • lizzie

    Ahhhhhh Geo …. wasn’t that an 80s song?

  • mastrick

    I’d like to go with Soto and Castillo next year. If we’re going to develop in house talent the way Mr. Ricketts wants then we have to give them a chance at the major league level when their performance warrants.

  • Doc Raker

    Off topic- The Yankees remind me of the 1980 Russian Hockey team in Lake Placid tonight. An old team ready to be dismantled.

  • Chuck

    1: Absolutely. He is one of the top Catchers in the game.
    2: Sure, unless his presense hinders the development of a minor leaguer. Backup catcher is a position where you promote from within because it is hard enough to get one good hitting catcher much less two. My plan would be to cycle guys out of that position when they get expensive to keep.
    3: Fairly good. It would be very good if you could guarntee Geo being healthy all year.

  • Phil G

    there is a pirate available ..hope Hendry talks it up

    Ryan Doumit of the Pirates who can play back up catcher and even start if need be take a look at his stats as he bats from the left side and plays right field and catcher hits over .300 with also pop . There was talk of the cubbies looking at him. This would be the most ideal player…without a doubt..

  • Joe Aiello

    Phil, the only reason I disagree is because we don’t need to spend the money to bring someone like Doumit in at that price to sit on the bench when we have guys that can play the position in the minors. His salary schedule is as follows:

    09:$2.05M, 10:$3.55M, 11:$5.1M, 12:$7.25M club option, 13:$8.25M club option ($0.5M buyout)

    That’s too much money for a backup catcher.

  • Dick Kaiser

    I like Geo as #1 and one of the minor leaguers as backup. Please don’t waste money on over the hill rejects from other teams.

  • Mr. David M. Beyer

    1. Soto is an above average catcher. I suspect he won’t age well in his 30s, so I trust him for the next 5 years and not beyond that.
    2. Unless Hill is secretly pulling the strings for every successful thing Larry Rothschild has ever done, there’s no sound reason for keeping him on the team. Wellington Castillo would be a fine backup.
    3. Dempster, Marshall, and Soto are the 3 guys on the team that I think are most likely to have good seasons. Castro could have a terrible 2nd year, Marmol might turn into Bad Marmol again, Z is, well, Z, Byrd seems like he’s due for a regression, Colvin can’t get on base, and so on and so forth.

  • lizzie

    Fess up Phil G … you’re really a Pirates fan hoping we’ll take Doumit off your hands right? ;-)

  • w

    I live in Orlando, I have seen plenty of Castillo while in Daytona, and if you believe that Yorvit Torrealba is household name, well then good for you. becuase at his very best that is all he can aspire to be. That is as good as I forcast he will ever be. D.R. have brought up legendary players but as still to bring a quality catcher (that is if you consider Tony Peña legendary who I believe extremly over-rated) Geo is ans will always be an offensive minded catcher ( a good one at that) but his defense (throwing out runners and preventing runners from advancing that part of the game he has regressed. He is no Javy, Benito, Alomar or Molinas (all fellow countrymen) when it comes tgo defensive prowless.

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