Dan's Dugout: Catcher Roulette Catching On • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Catcher Roulette Catching On


Forget the turkey, stuffing, and gravy. It’s time to play catcher roulette !!

It’s the time of the year when 30 general managers skirmish in an off-the-field effort to improve their rosters for the following season.

Since each team needs a dozen pitchers, the hunt for arms never ceases. But that’s also true at the other end of the battery – especially this winter.

Seldom have so many quality catchers been available for the right price.

Traded by the Yankees, Brian McCann will platoon with Evan Gattis in Houston. Credit: Bill Menzel

Traded by the Yankees, Brian McCann will platoon with Evan Gattis in Houston.
Credit: Bill Menzel

In alphabetical order, the list includes Alex Avila, Jason Castro, Todd Cruz, A.J. Ellis, Nick Hundley, Chris Iannetta, Dioner Navarro, A.J. Pierzynski, Wilson Ramos, Rene Rivera, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Kurt Suzuki, Josh Thole, and Matt Wieters – plus any other receiver not tendered a contract by Dec. 2.

The New York Yankees have already moved one of the best, shipping high-priced Brian McCann to Houston for a pair of hard-throwing pitching prospects. He’ll form a fine left-right platoon partnership with fellow slugger Evan Gattis, who succeeded him as the No. 1 catcher in Atlanta after McCann jumped to New York via free agency.

The McCann move means the Astros won’t need Castro, a lefty-hitting former All-Star coming off a bad year (.210). The Braves, needing a lefthanded platoon partner for Tyler Flowers, prefer Castro to McCann because he’s younger, cheaper, and far better defensively..

But that doesn’t mean they won’t consider Wieters, a switch-hitting Atlanta native not given a qualifying offer from Baltimore or Wilson Ramos, a solid hitter for Washington before tearing up his knee in September.

Should the New York Mets sign Ramos, Atlanta might be willing to trade Mallex

Speedy Mallex Smith is blocked by Ender Inciarte in Atlanta

Speedy Mallex Smith is blocked by Ender Inciarte in Atlanta

Smith, a fleet centerfielder stuck behind Gold Glover Ender Inciarte, for Travis d’Arnaud, whose star has picked up tarnish in recent seasons. A reunion with brother Chase, a jack-of-all-trades for the Braves, could resurrect the flickering flame in the catcher’s bat.

With R.A. Dickey now practicing his pet pitch in Dixie, the Braves could consider signing Josh Thole, who caught the elusive Dickey knuckler in both New York and Toronto.

Or they could bring back their former first-round draft pick, switch-hitting Jarrod Saltalamacchia, despite a terrible year with the Tigers (.171 in 92 games). At least he produced more power (12 homers) than ancient A.J. Pierzynski, who hopes to prolong his career at age 40.

Ramos (.307, 22, 80) carries the best bat of the group but missed the postseason after injuring his knee for the second time. At 29, he’s still likely to land a sizable contract.

Wieters, a switch-hitter, is two years older but has a better track record: three seasons with at least 22 home runs. He had 17 last year but batted only .243.

Travis d'Arnaud may get a change of scenery

Travis d’Arnaud may get a change of scenery

Avila, 30, has hit .218 or worse for three years in a row so won’t be the first choice of any team needing catching help. Nor will d’Arnaud, who dropped to four homers in 2016 after hitting 25 in the two previous seasons combined.

As of Castro, his batting average has fallen four years in a row. But he’s great in the field and has hidden power – if his past stats in Minute Maid Park suggest.

One surprise in the catching market could be A.J. Ellis, who finished the season with the Phillies after a late-summer swap for Carlos Ruiz. He doesn’t swing a big bat but is terrific behind the plate and in the clubhouse. At 36, however, his age could work against him.

With McCann already moved and others ready to follow, it’s going to be a captivating off-season for catchers. The game of roulette could last til spring training.

Elsewhere in baseball:

Roger McDowell, after 11 years in Atlanta, is considered the top candidate for pitching coach in Baltimore . . .

Speaking of Baltimore, wasn’t it a crime that Zach Britton didn’t come close to winning the American League’s Cy Young Award after going 47-for-47 in save opportunities, posting a 0.54 earned run average, and fanning 74 men in 67 innings (69 games)? . . .

The New York Yankees, anxious to add righthanded power, are after Yoenis Cespedes, who wants to stay in New York but also wants more money than the Mets are offering.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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