For a team with too many catchers last year, the Athletics are looking surprisingly bare at the position right now.
Derek Norris is lined up to be the everyday catcher next year, and as we discussed on our latest podcast, the A’s have hired Marcus Jensen to be their catching coach and specifically work with Norris’s defense. Norris is a very competent offensive player, but his defense faltered down the stretch. Regardless the A’s will need at least one and probably two more catchers on the 40-man roster.
One of those may be Stephen Vogt, who caught just 15 games last year before a foot injury limited him to first base/outfield duties for the rest of the year. His catching status for 2015 and beyond largely depends on how he recovers from his offseason foot surgery.
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John Jaso is still on the roster, even if he may be the odd man out now, but I highly doubt that he’ll ever catch again. He was already struggling defensively before another concussion problem ended his season in August. In 2013, a concussion ended his season in July. Even if he stays on the roster next year, he can’t be relied to be a backup catcher, and will probably only be a designated hitter.
So other than Norris, Vogt is the only other player on the 40-man roster who may be able to catch. That is not enough insurance if one or both of them were to go down with an injury. While the A’s don’t need to acquire an everyday catcher, finding a suitable backup to Norris who can handle the pitching staff and play well defensively is key.
If only the A’s had someone like that last year…oh right: Geovany Soto. Soto, when healthy, is a plus-defender who can handle the pitching staff and he won’t kill the team at the plate either. He’s currently a free agent, and at 31 years old coming off a season where he was limited to 24 games due to injury, he should be a fairly cheap option on a one or two year deal.
The issue with him is injuries, but this is really a low-risk, productive-reward scenario. Plus he already knows most of the pitchers on the team, giving him a step up on any other potential backups.
Unfortunately, the rest of the catching market is extremely thin in free agency now that Russell Martin has signed with the Blue Jays. John Buck, Nick Hundley and Gerald Laird are the best free agent catchers available. Even though all of those players are north of 30 and none of them have a career batting average over .250, they are all veterans who know the league well and aren’t liabilities defensively. The catch for the A’s is that none of these players should be very expensive.
The A’s can also try to improve their catching depth through a trade. Evan Gattis has been in many rumors, but his lack of defensive ability behind the plate doesn’t’ fit the A’s needs. Also, Wilin Rosario is reportedly on the block, but again he’s a defensive liability and the A’s probably shouldn’t go after him either.
Soto probably remains the best option, and the Buck/Hundley/Laird trio of solid backups is an adequate consolation prize if he lands elsewhere. My only concern is that the A’s will think that Jaso and Vogt provide enough catching depth behind Norris, because they both have cloudy future careers behind the plate.