The Rays Would Give Their Kingdom for a Catcher.


The catching situation in Tampa Bay leaves a lot to be desired, and the Rays are on the prowl for some help behind the plate.

When the legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel was putting together the roster for the expansion New York Mets, his first choice from the expansion pool of players was a non descript catcher by the name of Choo Choo Coleman. When asked why he chose Coleman, Casey replied, “Someone has to catch the pitcher.”

That seems to have been the approach Tampa Bay has taken towards the catching position for the nineteen years of their existence. When the top three catchers in the history of the franchise are John Flaherty, Toby Hall and Dioner Navarro, you know that that have mainly been interested in having someone to catch the pitcher.

It’s not that that the new look Rays haven’t tried to solve the problem. In 2014, they traded for a better than average catcher in Ryan Hanigan. The only problem was that he spent almost the entire season on the disabled list and was gone the next year. In 2015, they traded for Rene Rivera who was coming off a breakout season offensively with San Diego. He turned out to be an automatic out in 2016 and released. In 2016, they are giving Hank Conger a try and not only has he hit below the Mendoza Line but couldn’t throw anyone out trying to steal second base.

The Rays have also tried to draft a quality catcher but that hasn’t worked very well either. In 2010, they drafted Justin O’Connor in the first round. O’Connor has a cannon for an arm but that seems to be all he brings to the party He has advanced as far as Double A and is currently on the disabled list. In 2013, they drafted Nick Ciuffo in the first round. Ciuffo seems to be able to catch but can’t hit and has dropped to number twenty six on the prospect list. He’s currently playing at Charlotte. In 2015, they chose Chris Betts in the second round. Most scouts think he can hit but will not stick as a catcher. Due to injuries, he has yet to play for the Rays.

However, it is fair to say that if you can’t develop your own catcher, it’s tough to find one. Most of the teams who have a top notch catcher pay them and play them till they drop. Yadier Molina of St. Louis is a perfect example. Molina, an eight time All Star, has played his entire thirteen year career with the Cardinals and has made $68 million.

As further proof of the above, only three decent catchers will be available over the next two years. Emerging all star Francisco Cervelli of Pittsburg and past all star Matt Weiters of Baltimore will be 2017 free agents. Cervelli will demand a fortune in salary and Weiters is an injury risk. The best available catcher is Jonathan Lucroy of Milwaukee. He is under team control through 2017 at an affordable salary and the rebuilding Brewers would probably trade him for a quality prospect or two.

In the meantime, the Rays struggle through an almost impossible situation with Curt Casali and Hank Conger. Casali is proving to be a good defensive backup and not much more. Conger is an average defense catcher with no ability to control the running game. Between the two of them they have a .155 batting average with one home run and three rbi’s. At Triple A, there is Carlos Corporan who hit .178 with Texas last year and Luke Malle who has 35 major league at bats and is currently injured.

If the Rays were an offensive juggernaut, they might be able to get away with Casali as the primary catcher and someone such as Corporan as a backup. However they are not and they cannot afford a spot in the batting order that is an automatic out. If the Rays feel post season play is a possibility, a trade for Lucroy might be a good move. However, even if Lucroy is the answer to 2016 and 2017, the question is who follows Lucroy?