Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
From Matt Wieters to Francisco Cervelli, how do the A.L. East catchers stack up?
There are still 94 days until Opening Day and as such plenty of time for teams to make changes, but looking at where the teams stand right now, I thought I'd start a series of comparisons throughout the A.L. East. And whenever I write any kind of A.L. East comparison piece, I always want to start with the catchers because I know Matt Wieters is top notch.
Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles -- So Matt Wieters is a really good baseball player. I feel like we as fans tend to forget that from time to time, just as we do with Adam Jones. And the reason we forget is because he's not playing the way a future legend should, and that's what we were brainwashed to think that he'd be.
In 2011, when Wieters hit .262/.328/.450 and played spectacular defense, he racked up an fWAR of 5. It was the highest single-season WAR for an Oriole since Nick Markakis's 6.3 in 2008 tricked us all into thinking he was going to be a superstar. Last year Wieters got off to a red-hot start, then he tailed off a bit and many of us struggled with the fact that he wasn't hitting like Mike Piazza. At the end of the season his slash line was .249/.329/.435 and his fWAR was 4.1. In 2012, Bill James predict that Wieters will hit .262/.341/.448, modestly better across the board offensively than he's been in any other year. Wieters will be 27 in 2013, which supposedly means he'll really be hitting his stride in 2013 and 2014
Francisco Cervelli, New York Yankees -- The Yankees are so weird this off-season. With A.J. Pierzynski on the market I felt sure they'd go after him. I mean, come on. If the Yankees and Pierzynski went on eHarmony, they'd be matched for sure. But the Yankees are trying to cut salary in 2013 and beyond, and somehow Pierzynski ended up signing with the Rangers on a one-year deal. The remaining free agents at catcher aren't anything special, and while you can never rule out a crazy trade by the Yankees where they give up a 25-year old who topped out in A ball and in return get 1999's Pudge Rodriguez, it looks like Francisco Cervelli is their main guy in 2013.
Cervelli has played parts of the last five seasons with the Yankees, none of which have been very impressive. He's not totally abysmal at getting on base (.339 over 562 big-league plate appearances) but he can't hit for power and his defense isn't top notch, so the Yankees are basically looking at a replacement-level player. They'll also probably give playing time to Chris Stewart (who's terrible) and Austin Romine, the formerly hot prospect whose shine has worn off just a bit.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox -- Speaking of former hot prospects, here is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty isn't old yet, he'll turn 28 in May 2013, and appears to have settled in offensively as a guy who can pop some home runs but who will never get on base a lot. He's the J.J. Hardy of catchers, if you will. I would have expected Ryan Lavarnway to be the backup catcher (you might remember him as the guy the Orioles walked Adrian Gonzalez three times to face in game 162 of 2011), but in November they signed long time nobody David Ross to a two-year contract that I didn't really understand. The Red Sox are also weird.
J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays -- Man, the A.L. East is just littered with former first-round draft picks at backstop. Arencibia will be starting his third full season (although injury kept him to just 102 games in 2012) with the Blue Jays and he also is a guy who hits home runs but can't really get on base otherwise. He's the Jarrod Saltalamacchia of Canada. The numbers say that defensively he's not a bad catcher, but there is a lot of room between not bad and Matt Wieters.
Jose Molina, Tampa Bay Rays -- Jose Molina, also known as The Third Best Molina Brother, also known as At Least He's Not Gustavo Molina, will be the primary catcher for the Rays in 2013. He played 102 games for them in 2012 with average defense and below average offense, and as such was rewarded with the Rays picking up his option for 2013. Molina will turn 38 during the ‘13 season so the Rays will also also rely heavily on Chris Gimenez and/or Jose Lobaton. Neither hit or field considerably better than Molina, but both are younger.
So how would I rank the teams at catcher? #1 is definitely the Orioles and Matt Wieters. Not even a question. After that, I'll say that 2A and 2B are the Blue Jays with Arencibia and the Red Sox with Saltalamacchia. Either of those players could have a big year and it wouldn't surprise me too much. I'll put Cervelli and the Yankees fourth and Molina/Rays fifth if only because at least Cervelli is only 26 years old and over a full season he might be at least a little surprising.