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.