The backstop: Fantasy catcher options
Traditionally, the catcher position has been a black hole for fantasy owners. Try to find a player who has routinely hit 20 HRs in the last five years. Even going back 10 years, the lone exceptions have been Javier Lopez and Brian McCann. This year, with injuries to Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez, finding a suitable catcher has become the focus for many fantasy owners. In typical leagues, you can expect names like McCann, Buster Posey and even Geovany Soto to be unavailable. But if your catcher has gotten off to a slow start or landed on the DL, there are a few options to consider via trade or the waiver wire, if lucky.
The Phillies lineup is littered with big names that usually produce big numbers — everyone has heard of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco. One of the more unsung players is catcher Carlos Ruiz. He logged a .302 average and nine homers in just 121 at-bats in 2010. The veteran from Panama will be unlikely to lead the league in any categories, but he does have a tendency to get on base. In leagues that value walks, Ruiz’s plate discipline should reward anyone that took a flier on him.
Another option is Russell Martin. He was jettisoned from an LA Dodgers team desperate for change in the off-season, and, thanks to Jorge Posada’s knees, he is getting more than his fair share of playing time. Martin has started the season with five home runs, adding pop to a squad that already leads the American League in long balls. History indicates he won’t maintain his current above-.300 average, but in a lineup where his bat is only counted on to be the seventh or eighth option, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. One point that may make potential owners tentative is that top-prospect Jesus Montero should be on the verge of cracking the big leagues permanently; not necessarily a bad thing, as it would make Martin excellent trade-bait.
Outside of Mauer, no catcher received more hype in the minors recently than Matt Wieters. Unfortunately, as of yet, Wieters has yet to produce the numbers that earned him the “Mauer with Power” tag. For his position, the young Oriole is in the top five for RBIs, which you can’t say for more recognizable names like A.J. Pierzynski and Miguel Montero. His average will keep the more risk adverse away, but those willing to take a chance should be rewarded with 20+ homers for the 2011 campaign.
Wilson Ramos is a guy worth grabbing if you are particularly thin at catcher. Currently, the biggest concern with Ramos would be his at-bats. Washington’s starter is Ivan Rodriguez, arguably the best to ever pull down a mask. Ramos came over from the Twins in a deal for Matt Capps last year; seems Minnesota already has a catcher so the young Venezuelan became expendable. As the season progresses, Ramos should see increased playing time and benefit greatly from the tutelage of Pudge. In his limited at-bats Ramos has posted a .378 average and two home runs.
Here are a few less-favorable options that should keep you competitive … Detroit’s Alex Avila has gotten off to hot start and seems to be the Tiger’s best option. Especially considering Victor Martinez will see plate appearances primarily at the DH spot once he heals. The 23-year old Hank Conger also has produced well early, batting over .300. If his games played increases, owners should expect numbers good enough to at least spell them through Mauer’s injury. Finally, what catcher list is complete without mention of the Molina brothers? Jose Molina is swinging the bat well in limited playing time (not a recommended pick-up), but younger brother Yadier Molina may still be available in 10-team leagues.
Unless desperation has completely set in, you’d be wise to avoid the following at all costs … It seems the widely touted Jarrod Saltalamacchia won’t ever achieve the numbers scouts pegged him for. Manager Terry Francona appears to favor the ever-reliable Jason Varitek more and more. Perhaps management in Atlanta (probably kicking itself more for including Neftali Perez and Elvis Andrus) and Texas picked up on something Theo Epstein has not. Respective changes in scenery haven’t done veterans John Buck and Miguel Olivo any good; both are hovering around the dreaded Mendoza Line. If you’re set on a veteran, Rod Barajas is the better alternative. At least he will add some value in the power categories, already knocking five home runs.
Hopefully, you have McCann fully entrenched as your catcher, and you’ve left this roster dilemma to the rest of your league. Beyond that, my best advice is to pray to the baseball gods that leg fatigue is a temporary setback and not a sign of Maurer’s overall durability.