In 2014, Tampa Bay Rays catchers managed just a .195/.275/.250, amounting to a .525 OPS and 55 sOPS+ (45% below the average for catchers) that were both the worst in baseball. This season, the pairing of Rene Rivera and Bobby Wilson has been better than Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina relative to the rest of baseball, but not by much. Their .442 OPS and 42 sOPS+ are worse than last year yet somehow rank 26th in baseball so far.
While it’s nice for the Rays that they aren’t the only team not getting anything offensively from their catchers, they certainly want to improve upon that. One potentially worthwhile acquisition would be Miami Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who the Rays are interested in according to Jon Heyman. Saltalamacchia is owed $7 million this season and $8 million in 2016, but given that they have already designated him for assignment, the Marlins would be willing to pay much of that salary to facilitate a trade.
While Rene Rivera is coming off a good year at the plate in 2014, Saltalamacchia has a long track record of solid if not spectacular offensive performance. For his career, he has a .240/.310/.415 line (93 OPS+), and he still managed a 90 OPS+ in his down 2014. Those numbers are a little misleading because he hits righties a lot more than lefties, managing a .774 OPS for his career versus .596, but on the whole, he could give the Rays the average offensive catcher that they have so rarely possessed.
On the other hand, Saltalamacchia’s defense is really bad. He has thrown out just 22% of attempted basestealers for his career including just 19% in 2014, and is a horrific pitch-framer. In 2014, Rivera was the fifth-best pitch-framer in baseball at 18.3 runs above average–Saltalamacchia was dead last at 24.4 runs below average. He was a more reasonable 2.9 runs below average in 2013 and actually at 7.3 runs above average in 2012, so there is some reason for optimism.
Unless Saltalamacchia’s pitch-framing is a lost cause or the Marlins ask the Rays to pick up too much money, it makes sense for the team to acquire him. The idea for the Rays would be to pay around $2 million per season while giving up a minor league infielder (say Juniel Querecuto or Thomas Coyle) to get Saltalamacchia. The Marlins are certainly hoping for more, but the move wouldn’t be worthwhile for the Rays if the have to give up a better prospect or pay Saltalamacchia more than that. The Marlins don’t have to accept what they offer.
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If acquired, Saltalamacchia would give the Rays a major backup catcher improvement over Bobby Wilson (who would be designated for assignment without regret) and a viable pinch-hitter late in games. Rivera would still likely receive more time at catcher, but Saltalamacchia would be a candidate to split time with him more evenly, especially if the Rays have some idea how to fix his pitch-framing issues. Saltalamacchia could also see some DH time when David DeJesus plays the outfield (or is traded once John Jaso returns), and he could also play a lot more DH if the Rays keep him and let Jaso walk as a free agent following the season.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia certainly wouldn’t qualify as a significant improvement for the Tampa Bay Rays, but they need every bat they can get as they hope to score enough runs. They won’t make the Miami Marlins too good of an offer for Saltalamacchia, but if the price is low enough, they could make the move happen.