As Jon Daniels said recently, “This is not a good year to need a catcher.”
If it were, you’d never expect to have to consider paying a catcher who batted just .196 and struggled to throw runners out for the Rangers in 2012 an estimated $4.6 million in arbitration.
Things change, and just because Mike Napoli isn’t going to be playing on a one-year $13.3 million dollar deal next year doesn’t mean he won’t be a Rangers uniform. But, not tendering a qualifying offer to Mike Napoli before Friday’s deadline didn’t clear up the catching situation any, either.
Perhaps no player on the Rangers list of players they must make decisions on this offseason knows how things can change more than Geovany Soto.
A September call-up in 2007 for the Cubs, Soto started in the club’s playoff series against the Diamondbacks, homering early in game two and solidifying himself as the Cubs full-time catcher in 2008. The 2008 season, you may remember, went pretty well for Geovany Soto. The Rookie of the Year in the National League, Soto earned a start in the All-Star Game.
While most have written off Soto as a guy that the Rangers will non-tender and seek a replacement for in free agency, is the decision that simple in an offseason with so few options at the position?
Defending Soto at the plate recently is nearly impossible, and consists solely of pointing back to 2008 and 2010 as evidence that he can hit, so let’s look at the primary job of the catcher (and especially a back-up catcher), and that is handling the pitching staff. Namely, Yu Darvish. Before Soto arrived as the primary catcher for Darvish, Yu had already shown flashes that indicated he could be a future top-of-the-rotation starter, but carried a 4.57 ERA and a WHIP over 1.45. With Soto? Darvish went 5-1 in 8 games with a 2.35 ERA and a WHIP of 0.90. It was during that stretch that Darvish solidified himself as the choice as the Rangers #1 starter going into the playoffs. While that improvement could be credited to a rookie finding his way in the big leagues, is that something the Rangers are willing to risk during an offseason where finding a catcher is difficult enough already? If the Rangers don’t sign Mike Napoli, wouldn’t the team prefer to have at least one catcher on the roster with some familiarity with their Japanese-speaking ace?
If the Rangers are confident that those type of numbers are the product of Darvish, and that having Soto behind the plate was inconsequential, the decision is to non-tender their trade deadline acquisition will be easy. But if not, Soto might not be such a bad one-year investment, especially with several other teams looking to fill holes at the catcher position who might see Soto as a worthwhile gamble.
After all, this is not a good year to need a catcher.