With the 2012 season for the Rays in the books, it’s time to look back at the season as a whole. Despite being brutalized by injuries during the middle part of the season, the Rays played well down the stretch, winning 13 of their last 15 games, but fell just short of the playoffs. To kick off the review, we begin the positional review by taking a look back at the Tampa Bay Rays catchers.
Offensively, there were not a lot of positives for the Rays catchers. However, Chris Gimenez may have worked himself into consideration for a backup catcher position someplace next season. In an admittedly small sample size of 109 plate appearances, he batted .260/.315/.330 with a home run and nine RBIs. Despite a 24 to 8 strikeout to walk ratio, he has displayed some offensive capabilities in his opportunities this season.
Defensively, Jose Molina maintained his reputation for possessing a strong arm behind the plate, gunning down 33% of prospective base stealers, and we also saw time after time how his pitch-framing ability helped the Rays win games. Molina and his primary backup, Jose Lobaton, also had exceptional catcher’s ERAs, at 3.23 and 3.27 respectively. Had they qualified for the season, those marks would have been second and third in all of baseball, and tops int he American League. As it stands, with catchers with 200+ innings behind the plate, they ranked fourth and fifth in all of baseball.
The offensive production behind the plate left a lot to be desired. Molina and Lobaton had nearly identical batting averages, .223 and .222 respectively, leading the Rays to finish in the bottom third in all of baseball in many categories. The Rays were 22nd in batting average, 21st in on base percentage, and 26th in slugging from their catchers. Their eleven home runs and 34 extra base hits ranked fourth worst in baseball, and their 115 total hits were second worst. In fact, six different catchers had more hits individually than the Rays had as a team.
With the defensive reputation that Molina brought with him, it was expected that the Rays would be amongst the best in baseball defensively at the position. As such, anything outside of the upper echelon in baseball defensively would appear to be a disappointment. The Rays were not bad defensively at catcher, but they were not great either, coming in at roughly league average. As a team, they were exactly league average in fielding percentage and caught stealing. Their eleven errors were just one more than the MLB average of ten. While these statistics were not bad, they were fairly disappointing. Molina’s pitch-framing ability is hard to quantify, but nevertheless we saw him unable to block balls in the dirt consistently. The Rays actually allowed the fewest passed balls in the American League, but they allowed the fifth-most wild pitches and that was no coincidence. Taking all these factors into account, the Rays were above-average defensively at catcher, but given how little their catchers hit, they had to be much better than did. It simply didn’t happen.
Looking Forward To 2013
The Rays hold a team option for Molina at $1.8Million for the 2013 season, with a buyout of $300,000. Gimenez and Lobaton are both free agents after this season, and likely would not cost much should the Rays want to bring them back. However, the Rays appear to be in need of an upgrade at the position.
Even at $1.8Million, Molina would be a solid option as a backup catcher should the Rays decide to go that route. Yet, any consideration of continuing to have him as the de facto starter has seemingly been proven to be a pipe dream. With their catching prospects still in the lower minors, the Rays likely could use a solid offensive catcher as a bridge for the next couple of years. With their pitching depth, it would appear to make sense for the Rays to explore a trade for a player like Ryan Hanigan or Nick Hundley, who had a dreadful season this year in San Diego.
The free agent class at the position this offseason is headed by Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski, two options that would seemingly be outside of the Rays price range. In fact, Pierzynski is expected to resign with the Chicago White Sox, bypassing free agency altogether. The remaining options do not appear much better than what the Rays presently have, leaving it likely that the best chance to upgrade the position would be through a trade. Given the plethora of pitching options the Rays have, they may be able to do just that for 2013.