• Finding Mauer's Replacement: Part 2

    So the Twins have a problem. For the first time since A.J. Pierzynski first established himself as a regular, the club lacks an entrenched stalwart behind the plate. As discussed earlier this week, the solution might be in-house, but that's far from guaranteed.

    The timing of the announcement regarding Joe Mauer's position switch at first struck me as odd. Just three weeks earlier Terry Ryan had stated that he was planning around Mauer being a full-time catcher, while also reinforcing the dubious notion that the choice was ultimately up to the player. Why change course so quickly?

    As much as they tried to emphasize that the decision was in Mauer's hands, the Twins faced circumstances that forced a quickened verdict. His concussion symptoms had lingered into October, further cementing the reality that returning him to any sort of regular catching duty was an unacceptable risk.

    That the public announcement coincided so closely with the start of free agency is a sure sign that Ryan plans to actively seek a backstop on the open market. There's an interesting crop at the position this year, including numerous realistic targets for the Twins.

    Let's take a look at a few that stand out as likely suspects:

    The Reunion: A.J. Pierzynski

    The Twins have apparently been feeling nostalgic of late; earlier this week, they signed Jason Bartlett to a minor-league contract. In that spirit, signing Pierzynski would be a logical progression.

    Whereas Mauer's plight is hardly unique for catchers past 30, Pierzynski has been an exception to the rule. He's a brat on the field, earning him scorn from many opposing (and especially former) fans, but Pierzynski has been crouching behind the plate regularly for 12 seasons -- never missing more than 34 games -- and has shown no signs of wear. In fact, he had a career year in 2012 at age 35 and blasted 17 homers in 2013.

    Pierzynski makes sense for many reasons. He's familiar, he's an experienced veteran who hits from Josmil Pinto's opposite side, and he won't require a long-term deal. He will, however, require a generous salary commitment, because while I'm sure the wave of boos raining down during every visit to Target Field have made his heart yearn for Minnesota, he's probably not too enthused about going from a team that made the playoffs to one that has lost 95 in three straight seasons.

    The Power Bat: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

    One of the main complaints about Mauer's move to first base is that, as a guy who has topped 13 homers just once in his career, he doesn't provide the pop you'd like to see at the position. This overstated issue could be offset by the addition of a legitimate home run threat behind the plate, and Saltalamacchia -- who has hit 55 homers with a .457 slugging percentage over the past three seasons -- definitely fits that bill.

    Coming off a career year for the World Champion Red Sox, the 28-year-old Salty is the second best offensive catcher on the market behind Brian McCann, and he figures to command a sizable sum. As such, it's hard to see the Twins ponying up unless they really lack confidence in Pinto. Nonetheless, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports that the club has expressed "preliminary interest" in the slugger.

    The Grizzled Vet: John Buck

    In my hypothetical offseason blueprint for the Handbook, Buck is the catcher I had the Twins signing. Not because he was my ideal choice, necessarily, but because he's a guy I could easily see the team pursuing, and it's a choice I could get on board with.

    Unlike Pierzynski or Saltalamacchia, Buck would not come aboard with the expectation of starting full-time. He's spent much of his career as a part-time player or backup, hitting .234/.301/.400. At 33, Buck has caught more than 1,000 MLB games and has a good defensive reputation. Although he's not a great hitter (.215 average and .661 OPS over the last three years) he does bring some power to the table. He has reached double digits in homers in four straight seasons.

    In short, Buck is a guy who would fit as a backup or -- in a short-term pinch -- as a starter. And he won't cost much.

    The Framer: Jose Molina

    Advanced statistics have lagged behind in terms of evaluating defense, and nowhere has that been more true than at catcher. Strides have been made in recent years, though, with one of the most notable being Mike Fast's study on pitch framing that assigned a concrete value to the aptitude of different catchers to strategically receive deliveries and help their pitchers get strike calls. At the top of the list: Jose Molina.

    Of course, Molina is also a terrible hitter, with a career OPS checking in at .627. Still, if Fast's research is to be believed, Molina's framing proficiency saves his team an average of 35 runs per 120 games played. That helps offset the lacking offense considerably.

    The Twins are probably less inclined than the forward-thinking Rays, who employed Molina in 2013, to lend credence to a Baseball Prospectus study. However, the ability to influence borderline pitches would have to appeal to a club that largely tends toward hurlers who live and die around the edges of the strike zone.
    This article was originally published in blog: Find Mauer's Replacement: Part 2 started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 27 Comments
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      The top 2 do not make sense because a. of Pierzynski's relationships with his teammates when with the Twins and b. because Salty will be too expensive.

      Another catcher that makes sense for the Twins (speaking about framing) is Ryan Hanigan who the Reds are shopping because they just signed Pena to be their back up. He comes from a down season at the plate due to wrist injury, but he can be a great mentor for someone like Pinto and Herrmann.

      However, if the Twins get a C from outside the organization, Doumit is all but finished...
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      I posted about Hanigan on another thread. I think he makes a lot of sense for the 2014 Twins and certainly wouldn't be as sure an out as Drew Butera. He is coming off a bad year, but his lifetime OPS+ is 90, not too bad for a backup catcher.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      "and b. because Salty will be too expensive."

      Why? They have plenty of money, imo.
    1. cmb0252's Avatar
      cmb0252 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      The top 2 do not make sense because a. of Pierzynski's relationships with his teammates when with the Twins and b. because Salty will be too expensive.

      Another catcher that makes sense for the Twins (speaking about framing) is Ryan Hanigan who the Reds are shopping because they just signed Pena to be their back up. He comes from a down season at the plate due to wrist injury, but he can be a great mentor for someone like Pinto and Herrmann.

      However, if the Twins get a C from outside the organization, Doumit is all but finished...
      I'm pretty sure to knock on Salty is he wants a multi year deal while we are looking for a stop-gap guy.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Winston Smith View Post
      "and b. because Salty will be too expensive."

      Why? They have plenty of money, imo.
      They do have plenty of money, but they do have plenty of holes. A defense first less expensive catcher who will mentor Pinto is better than a bad defensive C (Salty is Doumit-like) They have around $60-65 million to spend. To make this team competitive they need 3 pitchers better than Correia, and at least a couple top of the rotation types in a competitive team, a corner OF (4) who can field (even in an one year contract), a platoon/def replacement third baseman (5) who can field before they need an offense minded catcher. If they get those 5 players, there will be no $ left for much...

      It's ok to be week with the bat and strong defensively down the middle (C, SS, CF) if the other positions are strong.
    1. B Richard's Avatar
      B Richard -
      I don't hate the idea of signing Molina. Would be valuable to have in the organization for when a lot of our younger guys start to establish themselves (Meyer and Gibson in '14 and many more beyond)
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      A.J. has a salty relationship with the Twins. Doubt it. Money can cure all. Might just need to be the guy many players could rally around. He would definitely keep egos in check. I would go for him.

      Let's look more so at the Twins line-up need for 2014 if they wish to play a team that can at least approach 81 wins.

      First, they need a leadoff batter and #2 hitter. Right now, we see some modest strength in Presley and Dozier in those spots. Hicks still at AAA.
      Third belongs to the new 1B, Mauer.
      Cleanup is Willingham.
      Plouffe, Doumit and Arcia bat 5-7, shuffled as needs sees fit.
      Leaves 8 and 9.
      I wish we had someone other than Florimon.
      I don't doubt that Pinto COULD be the Twins catcher of the future, but starting him right out of the spring training chute may be asking too much. I would rather see him at Rochester for a good portion of the season, working with Meyer and Logan and Dean and Meyer then thrown into the immediate defensive mix of dealing with (hopeful) veteran free agent signings and a staff that is already struggling (Deduno, Diamond, Albers, Hendriks) to find the plate. A bonafide starting vet catcher would add a solid and predictable bat that would fit nicely into the above batting order, which doesn't really look that bad on paper if people have better than their average years. Yes, I would like to see someone other than Doumit (a younger Thome lookalike) and more punch than the slick -- yet error prone -- Florimon at shortstop. I can see Doumit being that strong bench player to go with a spare and speedy outfielder, a solid reserve infielder, and someone else who could play other positions -- wait, we got that guy -- Plouffe...perfect future bench guy.) Let's find a third baseman for stopgap, too. A big comeback by Bartlett at short, a solid 3B, a veteran catcher with either power or ability to put balls in play, and the lineup looks pretty good.
    1. JP3700's Avatar
      JP3700 -
      Couple of other names to consider:

      Dioner Navarro: If I'm buying a fluky offensive season, I'll take Navarro over Salty.

      Kurt Suzuki: Known for working well with young pitchers and calls a great game. Would be a great mentor for our young pitchers/catchers
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      There is another reason why Molina would be a great fit, at least if the Twins believe Pinto will be with the Twins while finishing his education. Yes, Molina is the great veteran defensive catcher to work with Pinto. But he also is a spanish speaker who could better communicate with the young Latin catcher.

      As for the quick turnaround regarding this decision. I expect Terry Ryan has known since August that he needed to get Mauer away from behind the plate. Can't pay one player $23mm and have him miss a good chunk of most seasons and be so beat up other times that he isn't at his best with the bat. But Mr. Ryan is also wise enough to know that it had to be Mauer's decision. Mauer had to be on board if this was going to work. I expect they had several discussions at the end of the season, leading to Joe meeting/discussing this with his and team doctors as well as his bride. In the end, Joe made the decision. But Mr. Ryan led the horse to water!
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      A free-another catcher is a waste of money and roster. Play Pinto.
    1. Twins best friend's Avatar
      Twins best friend -
      We should sign another catcher but it should be a much lower priority. With Buck you know what you're getting and he shouldn't break the bank. Also, why is everybody talking about signing a mentor for Pinto? Mauer is a 3 time gold glover who is just moving to first base. Pretty sure he can mentor Pinto just fine
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by JP3700 View Post
      Couple of other names to consider:

      Dioner Navarro: If I'm buying a fluky offensive season, I'll take Navarro over Salty.

      Kurt Suzuki: Known for working well with young pitchers and calls a great game. Would be a great mentor for our young pitchers/catchers
      I like Navarro too, better fit for Target Field IMO.
    1. orangevening's Avatar
      orangevening -
      Quote Originally Posted by roger View Post
      There is another reason why Molina would be a great fit, at least if the Twins believe Pinto will be with the Twins while finishing his education. Yes, Molina is the great veteran defensive catcher to work with Pinto. But he also is a spanish speaker who could better communicate with the young Latin catcher.
      I think this is huge. Especially with Arcia, Sano, Rosario and other young latin players coming up. We used Ramirez last year for that role, but he was hurt most of the year and won't be on the roster this year. Someone like Molina will bring huge intangibles.
    1. lingrass's Avatar
      lingrass -
      AJ had good relationships when he was here. Only moron fans boo him.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Looks like the Twins decide that Eric Fryer might be this replacement. At least part time

      Wonderful
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      I'd rather see Pinto 'fail' and hit .250 all year than these guys. Molina is the only different one.

      Stuart Turner, 21, finished hist last game at AA-New Britian. It would not surprise me at all if he is called up late in September and will likely be in the discussion for Catcher in 2015 unless he has some major setbacks.

      He's the 'defensive specialist' catching wise. Which means he wouldn't have to hit more than .220.

      Put the extra millions towards Starting Pitching.
    1. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
      Paul Pleiss -
      Something to note here sports fans. The Twins don't need to sign a veteran catcher to mentor Pinto. They have one of the greatest catchers of all time on the roster. Remember Joe Mauer? Hello! He moved to first base, he didn't stop being Joe Mauer. So let's put the whole "mentorship" role to bed, that's a non-issue, especially if Pinto starts the season in AAA (where I think he should).

      Also, spending money on a catcher does not equate to not spending money on starting pitching. I do not believe there is a 1-to-1 ratio. Let's save some money on catcher so we can spend more on SP. That's hogwash. The Twins have a lot of holes, and while I'd rather they spend money on a SS than a C, spending money to make the team better seems to be a good idea, regardless of position. Maybe you don't think the Twins should spend money this off-season on a catcher because you dont' think the team will be competetive (Thrylos), that's a different argument, one that makes more sense than this "dont spend money on C, we need SP" being thrown around.

      And I'm done.
    1. lee_the_twins_fan's Avatar
      lee_the_twins_fan -
      I agree with Twins Best Friend – They don't need a "mentor" for Pinto; they already have one: Joe Mauer. He may not be catching, but that doesn't mean he's lost all of his knowledge and skills. Doumit and Fryer can fill in the rest of the time.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      A quality starting pitcher. And a second quality pitcher. That will eat up about $20 million plus. A flyer on a third possible rectifying prospect would be nice and not overly expensive. Now we're what, $25 million or so? That's 2 new quality arms, discussed at length elsewhere and Correia, hopefully Gibson and Deduno and Worley and Diamond and possibly a 3rd signing.

      But who do they throw to?

      I would love and hope Pinto is a long term answer. Despite some rough edges and some things to learn, all reports on the young man are very positive to his work ethic and arm. The bat looks pretty promising. But is he ready to be that front line guy NOW with no "back up" plan?

      If the staff feels he is ready, or mostly so, I love Molina and others, Ruiz, Hernandez and a few others, to back up and share time. It doesn't have to be a Latin catcher but what a great bonus to communicate with Pinto and other talented Latin youngsters on the way up and in.

      But I believe Pierzynski is the perfect choice. You still have payroll room for him. He has fire experience, durability and has mostly always been well regarded by his teammates. He also has winning experience and still swings a quality bat. He and Pinto provide opposite side bats w power, short term as well as long term ability and add offense to the lineup from about 6-8 in the lineup depending on the day. They can even play together sharing some DH time.

      It simply makes too much sense, and brings too much to the entire makeup of an improving club and roster not to proceed.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Molina all the way. Let's get a guy who's the best in the game at manipulating the grossly inconsistent umpire strike zones to give the Twins' developing pitchers an edge they don't deserve and that pads their stats and egos, as well as further taxing the front office's already sketchy ability to evaluate pitching talent.

      Then in a couple of years, when his already 38-year-old butt is gone, and his Jedi umpire- mind-tricking skill with it, we can watch the whole staff collapse as they're forced to actually throw pitches inside the real, non-Jedi strike zone.

      Sarcasm aside, I'd rather see MLB fix the shameful state of strike zone consistency and accuracy than have the Twins buy into the one of the sleight-of-hand charlatans. Barring that, yeah, let's go after one of the guys who's best at exploiting a deeply flawed system. If he can teach the shell game to Pinto and add to the clubhouse quality of life as a bonus, I'm in.
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