Suzuki or Salty to Texas?

 The Texas Rangers, apparently, have their primary catcher, signing Geovany Soto to a one year deal worth $3.05 million in recent days. Manager Ron Washington and GM Jon Daniels both want fans to believe that Soto will be No. 1 backstop when the team reports to spring training in February. The question concerning Soto: Is he really a legitimate first-division catcher? Do the Rangers believe that?

I don’t.

Maybe I’m reading into this wrong. Maybe what Wash and Daniels mean by “number one catcher” is Soto will be the catcher for the Rangers’ No. 1 starter, Yu Darvish. It would be the same role he held during the 2013 season so maybe that makes more sense. Not to say guys like Derek Holland don’t like Soto behind the plate, but he strikes most as a backup catcher, or at best half of a fairly-equal time share at the position, not one that catches 120 games or more.

Soto is the lone big-league caliber catcher on the roster, so the Rangers could still be interested in acquiring a free agent such as Brian McCann to serve some at catcher, and even first base and DH when he’s not catching. The only problem with that is the large contract most believe McCann will command in the open market — as much as $100 million, depending upon who is asked — a place the Rangers aren’t likely to touch. Assuming McCann is off the Rangers’ radar, the options behind the plate dwindle, but there are a few possibilities.

Kurt Suzuki, who was acquired by the Oakland Athletics from the Washington Nationals in the middle of last season, offers solid defense, the trust of a pitching staff and a good enough bat to deserve at least a 50-50 split in playing time. Suzuki made an impact with the A’s down the stretch and an argument could be made that he was among the bigger factors that assisted the club’s overtaking of the Rangers in the American League West.

If this Rangers team is looking for more of an offensive option at catcher, a return of Jarrod Saltalamacchia might be in order. Cost here is again the issue, as he may be in line for a deal of at least four years and as much as $10 million per season. He finished the regular season batting .273/.338/.466 with 14 home runs, but had a rough postseason, and the switch hitter has always struggled from the right-side of the plate, suggesting he’s not an everyday solution.

Saltalamacchia certainly likes the Rangers’ organization but has made it clear he would turn down a larger deal from another team in order to stay in Boston. If those Red Sox stick with David Ross and go after McCann themselves — or other, cheaper options, Saltalamacchia will have to look elsewhere. It’s reasonable to think Texas might be his first choice at that point, but with the Rangers having just guaranteed Soto more than $3 million, one has to wonder how much more GM Jon Daniels is willing to spend on the position.

One guy who won’t be back is A.J. Pierzynski who wore the uniform of the Texas Rangers this past season and seems almost destined for a reunion in Minnesota with the Twins, a team he played for from 1998-2003. Pierzynski just doesn’t fit with the Rangers want to do going forward and they certainly don’t have any interest in locking up a soon-to-be 37-year old catcher to a multi-year deal.

The organization’s top prospect is catcher Jorge Alafaro, but the 20-year-old Colombia native is at least a few years from being considered for major-league service, hence the efforts for more catching aimed at the trade and free agent markets.

The free agent market may not be to the Rangers’ liking, save for a few names, so maybe the Texas Rangers need to look at the trade market to get the guy they want.

J.P. Arencibia, a guy the Rangers have liked in the past, could be someone to look at if the Ranger exhaust all of their options in the free agent market. Arencibia struggled last season with the Toronto Blue Jays to the tune of a .194 batting average in 138 games, striking out 148 times but he did show that he has a power stroke, hitting 21 home runs.

A dark horse candidate might be a young catcher with the Boston Red Sox, Ryan Lavarnway. The 26-year old catcher finished his third year in the bigs with the Red Sox, but has yet to play in more than 46 games with the team because of being blocked by guys like Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Not only that, but with Boston rumored to have interest in free agent catcher Brian McCann and possibly bringing back Saltalamacchia, who’s a free agent, where does that leave Lavarnway? You can look at his 2.9 fWAR and dismiss it based on the limited amount of games he’s played, or you could look at that as the kind of potential he might have as a starter somewhere else.

While I don’t think the Rangers look at the trade market for a catcher, it certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The final option could be part of a package for a pitcher the Rangers are rumored to be considering a big run at — David Price.

If the Rangers can make that deal work, they can get not only Price back in the deal but what about asking Tampa to include one of Jose Lobaton or Jose Molina as well to solidify their catching position?

There are any number of options the Texas Rangers could go with and while I believe they’ll land a catcher from the free agent market, anything is possible so there’s no reason to rule anything out right now.

 

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Jason A. Churchill

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