Could the Rays Acquire George Kottaras?

By Robbie Knopf

Because of the Rays’ current catcher situation, every time a catcher is put on the market, we have to at least check in on him. The Brewers recently designated for assignment backup catcher George Kottaras as starter Jonathan Lucroy has come off the DL. Could he be a player the Rays are interested in?

Kottaras’ name probably rings a bell because of his time with the Red Sox in 2009. The Red Sox acquired him in a trade for David Wells. Kattaras, 29, is a Toby Hall-type player at the plate featuring pop from the catcher position without striking out very much, and he adds in excellent plate discipline. For his career, Kottaras has a .221/.326/.402 line with 34 doubles, 18 homers, and 65 RBI in 222 games and 601 plate appearances, walking 83 times compared to 121 walks. That is really not that bad (94 OPS+). In 2012 he has hit just .209, but he has walked 29 times versus 24 walks, leading to a .409 OBP. Kottaras’ weakness, though, is his defense, as his receiving ability is good enough but his arm is sub-par, leading to just a 16% CS% in the majors and even just a 25% clip in the minors. But overall, Kottaras’ is a player with the ability to contribute something to a big league team. Should the Rays go after him?

Kottaras look like a clear upgrade over Jose Molina. His offense is clearly better, and while he doesn’t throw out as many basestealers, at least he can actually block balls in the dirt. The player to compare Kottaras to is Jose Lobaton. Lobaton is 2 years younger, certainly a factor in his favor, but he features much less power, topping out at 10 homers in the minors back in 2007 and never hitting more than 8 in any season since. Lobaton and Kottaras feature similar walk rates but Lobaton has a slight edge on the defensive side, throwing out 21% of attempted basestealers and 29% in the minors, and he doesn’t have a passed ball in 55 major leagues games. Based on that, it doesn’t seem like Kottaras is enough of an upgrade to warrant being acquired and given starts over Lobaton.

But something interesting to consider is platoon splits. Kottaras’ is a lefty swinger, Lobaton is a switch-hitter, and Jose Molina bats from the right side. Here’s how they each do against righties and lefties.

The sample size is small for Lobaton (181 plate appearances), but at least we get some idea of how these three players fare against righties and lefties. We see that Kottaras is easily the best of the three verus right-handed pitching, while who is best against lefties is debatable. But the problem (or at least one of the problems) with the Molina-Lobaton tandem is that both are clearly better against lefties. Lobaton has played well in a small sample size against righties in 2012, posting a .197/.369/.303 line (96 OPS+) with 16 walks verus 18 strikeouts in 84 PA’s, but Kottaras has the ability to be better in that role, adding in the walks while also hitting for some power. Then, however, Kottaras would be starting against right-handed pitching, which is most of the games teams play, and that would leave his throwing arm exposed.

The Rays have to be looking to acquire a catcher by the time the July 31st trade deadline passes. The Ray will do their best to receive a catching prospect in any blockbuster trade, but if they don’t deal a player like James Shields or B.J. Upton, making a minor move to acquire a major league backup catcher-type is a possible move they could make. Because of his defense, George Kottaras likely isn’t an option. But plugging a short-term hole with a lefty-hitting catcher who hits righty well is something the Rays will consider, and we will have to wait and see just what they do.