Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sox pick the middle ground at catcher, waste money

I understand why some writers, such as Buster Olney, Tim Kurkijan, and Gordon Edes, and  are saying that the Red Sox made a good choice in sticking with a short term solution at catcher, leaving room for their prospects to make an impact in 2015. I don't have a problem with the decision to not block Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, in fact I advocated it in an earlier post. However, Pierzynski is an $8.25 million lateral move from guys like Ryan Lavarnway or Dan Butler. To quote Keith Law (ESPN Insider only), "Pierzynski doesn't get on base, doesn't hit for power, and is a below-average receiver, now entering his age 37 season and looking slower than ever at the plate."

Pierzynski never walked much to begin with, but his walk rate dropped to a barely noticeable 2.1% last year. This was worst in the majors by a large margin (Alcides Escobar was 2nd worst at 3%) and was a whopping nine times worse than league leader Joey Votto (18.6%). I find it hard to believe that the players already in the Red Sox farm system would have been able to top A.J. Pierzynski's .297 OBP. Granted, they might not hit as many home runs, but the 2013 lineup thrived on depth and grinding out at bats. As for those players in the farm system, Dan Butler is considered a defensive wizard and just put up a .350 OBP in a full season at Pawtucket and Ryan Lavarnway, who has been written off by many, topped Pierzynski across the board with a .299/.329/.429 line in very limited playing time this year.

To make matters worse, the final price on Jarrod Saltalamacchia was really very reasonable, at 3 years, $21 million. No, Saltalamacchia's batting average on balls in play wouldn't stay at a completely unsustainable .372, but even if you adjust his BABIP based on his batted ball profile you end up with a solid (for a catcher) .249/.317/.417 line. Given the poor line for major league catchers, Saltalamacchia would be solidly above average in OBP and slugging.
Finally, the Red Sox could be back in this exact situation next year if the prospects don't develop at they're expected to. As a quick reminder, Ryan Lavarnway was once anointed at the next Jason Varitek. Even if the prospects do develop as expected, Saltalamacchia could easily be traded or used as a reserve. Given that he has very strong platoon splits, it makes it easier to deploy him as a part time catcher.

Would two additional years of Saltalamacchia at $12.75 million (plus the fact that he'll likely outperform Pierzynski in 2014) be worth it? To me, the clear answer is yes. For a team like the Red Sox, a $7 million starter isn't a road block for a prospect. By electing to pursue this half measure at catcher, the Red Sox have wasted money that could have improved the team at catcher or elsewhere.

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