No shortage of catchers in free-agent market
V-Mart atop list of big-name backstops sure to garner interest
This year's group of free-agent catchers is filled with the usual list of aging veterans -- Gregg Zaun anyone? -- looking to split time in a platoon role or land a job as a backup and help mentor a younger backstop.
But there are also quite a few catchers who could be vying for starting jobs, including Victor Martinez of the Red Sox, Ramon Hernandez of the Reds, John Buck of the Blue Jays and A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox. And there should be no shortage of suitors.
Last year, there were fewer big-name catchers on the market. Bengie Molina's re-signing with the Giants to a one-year deal was perhaps the biggest splash, and Molina -- who ended up facing the Giants as the Rangers' catcher in the World Series -- will dip his toe in the free-agent pool yet again as a 36-year-old.
Martinez and Jason Varitek are both free agents from the Red Sox. Boston likes Martinez a lot, but it might be looking for a younger alternative. Staying in the American League East, Toronto must decide what to do with Buck.
Pierzynski's days with the White Sox could be over. He would like to return, and manager Ozzie Guillen would certainly like to have him back, but he's one of eight White Sox free agents -- and with four arbitration-eligible players and two players with club options, the South Siders face plenty of uncertainty.
Looking to buy: Unless the Red Sox fashion Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their starter for 2011 -- which is unlikely -- they will be in the market for a starting catcher and figure to have money to spend. They could re-sign Martinez, but they have questions about his long-term viability behind the plate, and Varitek's days in Boston appear to be over. The White Sox already have $75 million committed for next year and will need to address catcher if they don't re-sign Pierzynski. The Dodgers, unsure of Russell Martin's hip injury, could be looking to buy a catcher, but their financial situation remains hazy. The Tigers appear to be ready to part ways with Gerald Laird and could have the money to make a run at Martinez.
Top dog: Martinez, 31, remains at the top of his game offensively, hitting .302/.351/.493 with 20 homers and 79 RBIs. Boston would love to bring him back for two or three years, but he could choose to try for a four-year deal elsewhere. Martinez has remained a steady offensive producer since arriving in Boston in 2009. The four-time All-Star threw out 21 percent of attempted basestealers, which was up from 14 percent last year. He doesn't throw as well as he did in his heyday with the Indians.
Best of the rest: Buck picked a good time to have a breakout All-Star year with the Blue Jays, hitting .281 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs. Rod Barajas (Dodgers) is a marginal hitter (he batted .240 last year), but provided some pop with 17 homers and 47 RBIs. Hernandez hit .297 with seven homers and 47 RBIs for the Reds. Pierzynski's numbers declined (.270, nine homers, 56 RBIs) but he's still a capable starter at the right price. Yorvit Torrealba (Padres) and Miguel Olivo (Blue Jays) are also attractive options.
Worth a shot? Veterans Josh Bard (Mariners), Henry Blanco (Mets), Matt Treanor (Rangers) and Varitek are likely platoon players at this point in their careers.
Potential 2012 class: Longtime Yankees catcher Jorge Posada's current four-year deal will expire at the end of 2011, making him perhaps the most attractive free agent on the market, even at age 40. Yadier Molina could also be on the market if the Cardinals don't pick up his 2012 option. Jason Kendall (Royals), Dioner Navarro (Rays) and Ivan Rodriguez (Nationals) are currently slated to be free agents in a year. Kelly Shoppach (Rays) and Chris Snyder (Pirates) have options for '12.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.