Do we want to grow old with Pudge?

photo illustration by Samara Pearlstein

OK, I admit to SOMEWHAT artificially aging Pudge in that image up there, but he IS getting older, and with age comes a reduced arm, a slower bat, balky knees and back muscles. We’ve got a $13 million option on him for next season, with a $3 million buy-out. Those are the facts.

Danny Knobler reports that it’s unlikely the Tigers will bring back Pudge. It’s not a complicated argument. He’s old, he’s slowing down, he’s not as good defensively, and he’s way too expensive. Here’s why getting rid of Pudge would be COMPLETELY CRAZY, though.

He’s old. But he’s still better than most young catchers, even in his decline. Do you know who else is old? EVERYONE ELSE ON THE MARKET. Seriously. Here’s the list of free agent catchers this offseason: Brad Ausmus, Michael Barrett, Ramon Castro, Jason Kendall, Paul Lo Duca, Jorge Posada, one of the Molinas that’s not Yadier, and Yorvit Torrealba. Torrealba is 29. Everyone else is 30 and over. Posada and Lo Duca, at 35, are the same age as Pudge. Brad Ausmus is like 104, I don’t even know how he’s still catching.

If there was some hot young catcher on the market I would say sure, don’t re-up Pudge. I would have liked to snag Saltalamacchia, since it was so unfair that the Braves had TWO young catching prospects when nobody else had any. But the Rangers got him, and I reckon they’d be pretty stupid to trade him now.

There is no hot young catcher out there for us to pick up. Our options are a) terrible young catchers (recall my earlier post on the issue) and b) other old catchers. Why trade the oldster we’ve got for a different one?

He’s slowing down/he’s not as good defensively. Honestly, I feel like you can almost dispense with the defensive concerns, not on the basis that Pudge doesn’t/won’t have them, but because we’re just probably not going to see an improvement with anyone else. Pudge doesn’t throw guys out quite like he used to, but he’s still one of the best in the game. Our options are limited to young catchers who aren’t nearly as good as he was in his prime, and are probably still a little below him, skill-wise, even in his old age; catchers who are as old as Pudge or near to it, and whose bodies are breaking down maybe even faster than his; and Pudge himself.

As for the hitting, well, he’s not the very best catcher in baseball, but he’s still very good. The only catchers (who caught 100 or more games this season) with a higher batting average than Pudge are Posada, Victor Martinez, Russ Martin, Joe Mauer, Kenji Johjima, and Josh Bard. Pudge is obviously a little worse when it comes to OPS, due to his, uh, moral objection to taking walks, and he’s behind quite a few catchers: (in order) Posada, Martinez, Martin, Mauer, Varitek, Chris Snyder, Brian McCann, Josh Bard, Johjima, Gregg Zaun, John Buck, Carlos Ruiz, Bengie Molina, and Ramon Hernandez (oy).

Posada is the only one of those who is free for the taking, and if Pudge is starting to break down I think we can assume that Posada is going to break down at more or less the same rate. Honestly, no names on those lists leap out at me and scream, “PERFECT FOR THE TIGERS!!”, except for some of the young guys that we aren’t going to be able to get anyways. I’d love to pry out a McCann or a Martin or even a Johjima, but it ain’t happenin’.

Pudge IS slowing down. We always knew that was going to be the case at the end of his contract. But viable alternatives are few and far between.

He’s way too expensive. This is a bit of a sticking point for a lot of people. We would be paying $13 million for one year of a 36 year old catcher with declining skills and increased injury risk. I freely admit that this is whacked-out.

Here’s the thing, though. Everyone wants a catcher this offseason, because most everyone NEEDS a catcher. The Dodgers are all set, the Braves are set, the Mariners are set, the Twins are set… almost everyone else is going to be at least dipping a toe into the muddy waters of the market. Catchers are going to command lots of cash. Why? Because they CAN. Supply and demand– big catcher’s market with wee number of live catchers means big bucks for those catchers.

SOMEONE is going to pay Pudge that $13 million. Maybe even more; the market is THAT thin. Scott Boras is already laying down the guilt trips; when Boras is your agent, you’re going to get your money. It’s not like we’re a team with a small payroll. If someone is going to pay him that anyways, I figure it may as well be us. It would be ridiculous for the Tigs to do so if nobody was willing to spend that much money on a catcher, but that simply isn’t the case. We’d have to cough up $3 million just to see him walk regardless. I know that $10 million isn’t a negligible amount of money, but are we really going to get someone good for much less than that? In this market? I think not.

We can pay Pudge, we can let Pudge walk and pay similar money to some other pretty good catcher, or we can let Pudge walk and pay less money (‘tho still probably way more than he’s worth) to some scrub of a catcher.

It’s only one year. I say we just suck it up and let Pudge finish out his contract.

Of course all of this would be solved if we had something coming up through our minor leagues. But again, like I said before, we pretty much don’t.


11 responses to “Do we want to grow old with Pudge?

  1. I think the emphasis would be on hot young pitcher, if we were to replace Pudge. Which I don’t think we should do til Winter 2008.

  2. Actually, my preferred hitters’ stat is RC/27, and I looked at catchers, and kept lowering the plate appearances required until I had almost 30 catchers on the list (got down to 375):
    J. Posada, 8.39
    V. Martinez, 6.57
    R. Martin, 6.14
    J. Mauer, 6.04
    J. Varitek, 5.55
    C. Snyder, 5.00
    J. Bard, 4.99
    G. Zaun, 4.86
    B. McCann, 4.67
    C. Ruiz, 4.37
    K. Johjima, 4.36
    B. Molina, 4.34
    R. Hernandez, 4.32
    J. Buck, 4.23
    R. Paulino, 4.01
    Y. Molina, 3.96
    I. Rodriguez, 3.95
    The only name I’d be interested in on that list that may or may not be available is Josh Bard. But then again, the Pads may keep Bard and discard Michael Barrett, who, despite having a glorious history of punching A.J. Pierzynski for no apparent reason, sucks.

  3. Ahhh, I love RC/27, because then I actually picture a team of clones and it is glorious. Pudge hugging other Pudges! A team of Jorge Posadas would be pretty hideous, though, regardless of how many runs they’d score. :P And you have to believe that number (for Posada) will decline next year… plus I don’t really trust Posada behind the plate any more than I do Pudge; probably less so. And Posada has had trouble with pitchers… I know he had little spats with Farnsworth, whom Pudge handled quite well, and IIRC Posada had problems with Randy Johnson… and doesn’t Mussina not like throwing to him?
    The thing with Bard is that, if he’s available, he is probably going to cost a lot. Not because he’s spectacular, but just because he’s slightly above serviceable in a market with no good catchers. I’d rather overpay for Pudge than overpay for Bard.
    And really, you never need a REASON to punch AJ Pierzynski in the face. C’mon, duuuhhh.

  4. Do a google image search one day on Don Mossi, then do the same on Jorge Posada. Look, Don Mossi is still the All-Time King of Ugly, but Posada is surprisingly close. And, yeah, we’d need to *trade* for Bard, and I’d bet the Pads wouldn’t let him go except for something rather juicy… Jurrjens, perhaps? I’d rather just suck up the $10 mil and stick with the devil we know. Now, that’s not to say the Tigers shouldn’t negotiate and see if Pudge would be willing to sign something in the neighborhood of $18 mil for 2 years *in place of* his $13 mil option… And, who knows, maybe he’d do that… But ya gotta at least try, which is, I think, what’s really going on here. They just fed a little nugget to the media that they’d seriously consider going without Pudge in 2008 as a bit of pressure on that negotiation.

  5. The problem for me remains Pudge’s lack of defense. For a guy who’s going to be out there quite often, I’d like to see a lot fewer balls get to the backstop. Move around a bit, lil Pudgey one!
    His prime doesn’t matter. He’s proven he’s way past it. The only question that matters is whether you can find a catcher who will play better in 2008 than he will. At this point, I think you can. He’s Pudge in name only.

  6. Jeff, I have a reeeeeally hard time believing that any player with Scott Boras as an agent is going to end up settling for anything less than absolute top dollar.
    Kurt, who would play better? Rather, who would play better and actually be available to us, and would be as ‘cost-effective’ or more so than Pudge? You can find catchers out there who will play better than Pudge next year. Like I said, I would kill to get a Russ Martin or a Kenji Johjima. But we aren’t going to get those guys. I’m not convinced that the Josh Bards and Yorvit Torrealbas and Jason Kendalls of the world are an improvement.

  7. You also have to take into account re: passed and wild balls, that Pudge caught Verlander a lot this year, and Verlander tends to get a little wild with his throws. You can’t put that all on Pudge.

  8. I’m looking at a team that jumped from 44 to 75 wild pitches, and a catcher whose passed balls and errors nearly doubled as well, and I don’t think it’s too hard to improve on that kind of production. As for catching Verlander, both he and Bonderman doubled in wild pitches. WP/PB is a team effort of the battery, but what I saw, Pudge just can’t move to catch anything not in his mitt. At the plate, his OBP is less than .300, his OPS+ has decreased every year in Detroit from league average to 13% worse than it.
    He’s just done being Pudge and he’s some over-the-hill catcher.
    Personally, I don’t think they will go the FA way. I’d rather see a trade worked out and invest the 10M elsewhere.

  9. ivantopumpyouup

    I think it’s kind of sad (and indicative of how thin the market is) that the biggest thing Pudge has going for him is there’s NO ONE ELSE OUT THERE. :S
    I’d like to think if they’re this willing to let Pudge go, they have a backup plan in place. Would Seattle trade Johjima because they have Jeff Clement? Would Atlanta let McCann go for Pe

  10. I like how no one else has commented on the COMPLETELY TERRIFYING ageing of Pudge up there. Yowza.
    I agree that it would be nice to get someone better than old-Pudge… but ONLY if it would cost us less than $10 mil. If we end up having to sign someone for more years than we want to, and way more cash than we want to, just because the market’s crazy for catchers this year, I’m going to be pretty pissed that we didn’t hold onto Pudge.

  11. Must agree with the aged-photo comment–definitely the scariest one, even scarier than Todd Jones in pigtails bouncing about. We BETTER keep Pudge. Whatever he may lose in happy stats, he will surely make up for with his amazing Pudge-ness.

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