The Braves find themselves in an interesting situation at catcher. They have an incumbent starter in Johnny Estrada who lost his playing time to a rookie due mostly to injury. That’s not particularly unusual, except that Estrada hit .300 and made the All-Star team in 2004, in his first full season, is still fairly young, and is still fairly cheap. At the same time, there are real questions about his trade value not only because of the injury but because he lacks power, and most teams want their catchers to hit home runs. Add in that he’s really slow, even for a catcher, and the persistent thought that 2004 was a fluke year, and the Braves might have trouble getting much for him.
At the same time, is Brian McCann really ready? As a hitter, he was better than Estrada was this year, but not as good as Estrada in 2004. He seems to have good defensive instincts and skills but had trouble throwing, while Estrada was much better at that phase of the game this year. It might be better for McCann to spend a half of a season in AAA polishing his skills, but how do you put him back on the farm when he’s seen the show? It’s a little different than a situation where you have a farmhand who’s probably better than the incumbent when that farmhand has already come up to the majors and been better than the incumbent.
You could continue the job-sharing arrangement that worked acceptably in 2005. You need to play two catchers anyway, and why not have them play 100 games and 62 rather than 130 and 32? Keep them fresh. Well, one problem is that McCann is probably the better player and yet will make a lot less money; Estrada should be up for arbitration. Another is that it’s not an ideal job-sharing arrangement since they can’t really platoon, because McCann hits lefty and Estrada, while a switch-hitter, is terrible against lefties. Plus it won’t do Estrada’s trade value much good if he winds up with 80 games, 240 plate appearances.
Another idea would be to simply make one the starter and the other a standard backup, a 120 game/42 game split. In that case, one man would probably be assigned one pitcher to work with. That could be McCann with Smoltz, since Smoltz likes pitching to McCann, but McCann is the better player. So then Estrada could work with one guy, maybe Hudson. But then you run into the problem again of the backup making ten times what the starter gets and that’s really a bad situation.
So if McCann is on the major league roster, he should be the starter. And if that’s the case, Estrada should be traded because it doesn’t make sense to keep him around to back up for $2 million a season. Then you need to find a backup to McCann, or to Estrada if you decide to give him another year while McCann gets seasoning. There are two incumbent backup catchers on the 40-man roster. Eddie Perez is expected to retire, likely to take a job with the organization. His arm has apparently completely given out and his bat already had. Brayan Peña is the other backup. I like him offensively as a backup. His combination of high averages (though anybody could hit .210 as a backup catcher, or .340, that’s just what the role’s like), a little doubles power, and good (for-a-catcher) speed, plus being a switch-hitter, makes him a nifty backup for the slugger McCann projects as. I don’t know about how good of a hitter he is from the right side, though it’s hard to believe he’d be worse than Estrada. The big problem is that he can’t throw at all, or at least couldn’t during his time in the majors. If he and McCann are the catchers baserunners will run wild.
Still, I think that that’s the most likely outcome, McCann backed up by Peña. What I would like is for them to work with Eddie Perez. Give Eddie a job as a coach with the major league team. If you don’t feel comfortable with a full-time catching coach, you could let him be the third base coach (if Fredi Gonzalez leaves to be a manager somewhere) or the first-base coach (with Hubbard moving to third) or the bullpen coach (if Bobby Dews retires or moves to the front office). But let him work with the young catchers on their throwing and fielding. It’s what he’d be good at.
What about Salty? Is he too far away to be used for backup duty? Seems like Pena might fetch a little on the trade market as well.
Ok, I’m back in. Soryy I over reacted yesterday, it was kind of childish.
I say we move Estrada for a backup catcher (A Bako or one of the Molina’s to serve as a a “Charlie O’Brien guy.) and a reliever.
I think a team like the Padres, Giants, Rangers, or Tampa Bay may all want a good look at a guy like Estrada.
The Pirates might want him too…
I think you underestimate Estrada’s trade value somewhat, Mac. Although he could probably no longer be the one guy in a very good trade due to his injury, he would seem to be very valuable to more a handful of teams as part of a multi-player deal. I think the low power is a concer for some, but there are so many awful catchers, that it shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
Estrada’s defense has made significant strides the past two seasons. If Ramon Hernandez is done in SD, I’m sure they would like a guy like Estrada. Can Rudy Seanez’s shoulder or elbow (I forget which is the balky bodypart) hold together for another season?
Are you sure Johnny’s going to make that much Mac? Giles only got $2.35 mil in his first arby year coming off 3 very good seasons. I think he’s going to be about as cheap as you can get on the free agent market without going totally bottom of the barrel. Plus, he offers more upside than the Paul Bakos of the league.
I agree with the statement that Estrada’s trade value is being underestimated: (1) because there are a lot of craptastic catchers on major league rosters right now; and (2) there are lots of craptastic GM’s right now who will be willing to take Estrada in a favorable deal for us.
I wonder how many GM’s are warry of making a deal with us.
For young pitchers? Probably about 27 😉 But there are still some good ones out there waiting to break through… including the one we sent to Oakland last year. Although his bum shoulder don’t help things.
We need to move Sosa to the pen or trade him. I don’t think he is going to be as good of a stater next season. We could use his arm in the pen or trade him to someone like Texas with Estrada in a three team deal and get a bull pen.
See, Smitty, I knew you’d be back.
I kind of assumed as far back as July/August that Estrada would be traded in the offseason. Now I’m not quite as sure, but I still think it would be a good idea. McCann seems ready, and with the possibility of Eddie as a coach I think he’ll be just fine. As for backup, I’m not sure about Pena…his defense is terrible and I’m not convinced of his offense either, but as Mac mentioned, you can’t have your backup making a lot more than your starter so Estrada would have to go, hopefully for a reliever.
The Indians got Travis Hafner for Einar Diaz. There is no end to the number of major league GMs who will overpay for a proven catcher, even if that catcher is a proven mediocrity. I think the Braves can certainly get some value for Estrada if that’s the way they want to go. On the other hand, it would certainly be selling low. Estrada may not be as good as he appeared in 2004, but the injuries made him nearly worthless this year, and it’s going to be hard to get 2004 value for him.
Here’s a wildly outrageous idea:
What if we say WE’RE REBUILDING and go out of our way to stock up on youngsters to contend again in ’07 or ’08?
I think everybody needs a year off from the stress.
I’ll get to the relievers eventually. It’s the sort of thing you need to build up to.
I don’t know about Estrada’s arbitration award, but $1.5 million seems right. Who’s comparable? It’s hard, because Estrada isn’t really similar to most contemporary catchers, who mostly hit homers as their sole offensive contribution.
A few of similar standing, if not offensive production… Ben Molina, coming off a year in which he hit .245/.274/.322, got $1,425,000 in his first arb year.
Damian Miller got $1,250,000 in 2001, coming off a typical Damian Miller season, .275/.347/.441.
Ramon Hernandez got $1,887,500 coming off of .233/.313/.335; that may have been part of a long-term deal.
Brad [expletive deleted] Ausmus got $1,075,000 coming off of a .221/.302/.304 season, and that was in 1997.
Miller and Hernandez, like Estrada, have played in one all-star game. I think something like $1.5 million would be the floor if Molina got $1.425 million.
I’m sorry, but this is depressing. We should be playing Game 5 today, not mulling over possibilities for a roster that won’t be hashed out until April. I’m not saying I dislike Mac’s commentary, it’s great. I’m just still very disappointed about yesterday.
$1.8 million for 2 catchers (Estrada/McCann) is fairly inexpensive, even if McCann ends up playing more. I think the Red Sox are paying more than that just for Mirabelli.
Hypothetically, let’s say that we’re rebuilding. Let’s say that the team says we’re rebuilding (although teams seldom do.) Next year, the Braves will win their 15th division title, and — since we’re in a rebuilding year — we’ll not have enough talent to break through to the WS.
It’s lose-lose, no matter how you slice it.
Mark, please don’t talk about it. I am still shell shocked and I am trying to get it all out of my head.
I’d take a guy who can play some D behind the plate and catches maybe a guy like Davies. He coudl come in to give McCann a breather late in the game. If someone goes down you have Pena at AAA. Eddie Perez would be perfect for this role, but he is out. Blanco is too old as is Bako. I always thought Corky Miller of the Reds called a good game. Benito Santiago would be great if he would play for cheap.
What about Marte/WB/Orr platoon at short to see who is the best? Can Marte play short?
Estrada is getting 476K this year. I doubt he will top 1M next year in arbitration with as little service time as he has. He’s not going anywhere. The only quesetion on him is whether the offseason is enough time for him to heal his back. Bobby will start Estrada next year, assuming he’s healthy, and McCann will be the backup. Although McCann will receive more playing time than a normal backup.
Are arbitration awards based on service time? I thought they had to do with what comparable players at the position are being paid, generally defining comparable in terms of triple crown stats.
1.5 mil seems reasonable. There’s a chance they could come to terms on a deal as low as 1.25 mil or as high as 2. I don’t even think the Braves arbitration submission would be under 1 mil, let alone the contract they eventually sign.
Seems like there used to be more decent-hitting backup catchers than there are now. I’d love to have someone like Todd Pratt back up McCann for one season — you know, someone to hit .260 with some walks and 7-10 HRs, and who works cheap. Ten years ago there were a half dozen of those guys floating around. Now the backup catcher seems to be anyone with a decent arm, offense be damned.
My preference would be to trade Estrada, sign a cheap veteran backup, and just throw him in with McCann, Pena, and Salty next spring and see what shakes out.
Arbitration awards are based on what comparable players *with the same amount of service time* are being paid.
Service time is part of the equation: you’re supposed to get what comparable players with the same amount of service time have. But Estrada (because of his part-years) actually has a lot of service time for a first-time arbitration candidate, if relatively few plate appearances. $1 million is the absolute floor for a regular entering arbitration. I mean, Gryboski got $877,500 last year in his first (likely only) arbitration settlement.
On the subject of backup catchers who can bash, the Twins outrighted Matt LeCroy this week.
Wow. He was their DH for almost the entire second half.
Ed Wade is out at Philly. That’s too bad, because incompetence in a division rival is always a good thing. Think they might hire LaMar? 🙂
Problem is that LeCroy can’t throw at all.
If LeCroy could actually play some defense, he’d be a good platoon partner for McCann, but he’s hopeless in the field. He’s best on an AL squad where he can DH against lefties. More on LeCroy at:http://www.aarongleeman.com/
This comes full circle to sansho’s comment about the lack of backup catchers with pop. I think there are lots of them, but their poor-fielding reputation banishes them to AAA or 1b/DH roles. Most teams tend to focus on defense for their backup catchers. It’s no surprise that the Athletics have noted that the market undervalues the hit-first types, and carry Adam Melhuse as their backup. It seems to me that a team could platoon wisely here, and pair the no-arm catcher with a left-handed starter who shuts down the running game.
I know a lot of people don’t like Johnny, but he’s a bargain, even if he’s backing up. Any veteran who is cheaper is going to be much worse. I mean, Brayan Pena is cheaper, but worth about what he gets paid. I will be shocked if the Braves trade him.
I like Estrada okay, and I think his true level of ability lies between 2004 and 2005, which would be pretty good. But given our well-stocked cupboard of catchers, I think it behooves our penny-pinching overlords to find out if Estrada’s perceived value on the market might exceed his actual value. If so, maybe we can get some talent in return in an area where we don’t have so many possible replacements (read: bullpen).
Here’s my concern with KEEPING Estrada: he’s going to suck away P.T. from the far more talented McCann. Plain and simple…if he’s making only 476K, he probably stays…if he stayed and only played 50 games or less, GREAT…then I would love to HAVE HIM AS A LUXURY BACKUP…Like the Falcons with Matt Schaub…a nice luxury to have.
But that’s it…if he stays, he’s going to force McCann down to 75 or so games, and that’s the problem with Bobby Cox having Estrada down. He’s a Cox favorite.
We’ve got an organizational logjam at catcher, and it seems to me that either Estrada or Pena have to be traded. Bringing in a veteran just compounds the problem. If Estrada had a bit more age on him, he might accept a secondary role, but he probably wants to be the primary catcher somewhere. Unless you think Pena just won’t cut it as a backup, I’d trade Estrada in a package to get something else we need (TBD depending on resolution on Furcal/Chipper/Marte).
I’m not sure I’d view Pena and Estrada as being components of an organizational logjam. Saltalamacchia will probably be ready to play sometime in 2007 (or sooner, considering how fast young players came up this year), so keeping Estrada for a year as an insurance policy doesn’t seem like too bad an option. You can always trade him next year.
Being strong defensively as a team begins behind the plate, and Estrada was successful in throwing out approximately 30% of runners trying to steal. His footwork’s improved (thanks to his working with Pat Corrales), but he still has some bad habits he needs to shake, like backhanding pitches in the dirt and not flattening out to block the ball completely. (They ruled it a wild pitch the other night, but it was really a passed ball.)
Although Estrada had an off year with the bat, he knows how to work a count, and he has shown that he can hit well with runners in scoring position. Maybe not so much this year, granted, but he’s demonstrated that ability.
Would it really be so bad to have McCann and Estrada split the catching duties? Let’s not forget that whoever isn’t catching shores up the bench, and that’s been a weak area for the Braves in years past. So I say trade Pena if possible; if not, let him get more playing time in the minors.
In theory, having McCann and Estrada share catching is fine. In practice, I think it will be a problem. Barring injury, either McCann is under utilized or Estrada sits and stews. And we need to make room for Salty to be promoted to AAA at some point relatively soon. McCann seems like a decent athlete to me, I imagine with some work he will be a fine defensive catcher.
Are you really a doctor?
Also, having both doesn’t REALLY strengthen the bench, since we know Cox won’t use his only backup catcher to pinch hit.
Let me add my belated appreciation for your blog. I discovered it during spring training and have been a frequent reader, and infrequent poster, ever since.
Once again I think your analysis of this situation is accurate. McCann should be the starter and Estrada should be traded. I do think, and hope, you may be underestimating the potential market for a possible starting catcher. I would prefer however, to find another backup catcher rather than use Pena unless he can make some significant strides defensively in the offseason.
I look forward to more insight from you as the postseason progresses…darn it.
Geez, I finally come out of the fetal position and turn the lights back on, and you have already written two thorough, insightful analyses, plus the recap that I only half expected to see. Thatsa proffesionalism.
As to catchers, I wouldn’t cry if Paunch hit the highway. I think DePodesta is looking for a catcher and LA seems a fitting fit. (warning: idiotic trade spec.) They even have a nice looking reliever from Augusta that they might be cajoled into letting loose.
Good point, Stu. Hadn’t thought about that.
I don’t see that much trade value in Estrada. As someone posted above, not much power. But he did light it up in 2004, so what the heck do I know? I imagine getting run over by Erstad hurts for a couple of months.
Why is Hernandez done in SD? Did I miss something or has he just become too expensive?
I posted on LeCroy on another thread today. He would be more appropriate in the Julio slot if Chipper became the everyday 1B, and LeCroy served as RHB off the bench and back-up 1B (except he can’t field very well over there either), and last-ditch C. Plus, I think he will want to go some place where he will get some swings and that means AL (Boston?).
I missed the game where Pena played so poorly behind the plate, but I think the guy looks good as a hitter. He may never hit a big-league HR, but he sprays the ball around fairly well.
I think McCann and Estrada start the season with the big club and Estrada is moved as soon as someone else needs a catcher. This would help the Braves get as much as they can for him. I don’t think he’ll break the bank in the meantime.
I think that McCann has the potential to be the best of the baby Braves. I also think that we should keep Estrada just in case Brian has to do some growing in Richmond.
I think there will be lots of organization interested in a catcher. We know those baseball people tends to value the catcher position not only by the offensive stats. Johnny is rather cheap, he made to one all star game, and has a very good reputation being the catcher of the Atlanta Braves. Everyone knows he is hurt last year and will be fully recovered by next season started. So, now is actually a very good time to trade Estrada when his perceived value is still high. I think McCann is ready, and like Francouer, it’s impossible to send them back to Richmond after what they have achieved this season, unless Fransouer and McCann force the issue by having Jordan like season in the first half. If they need any further development, it will be done in Atlanta rather than Richmond.
In respect of Pena, I don’t see the chance of Bobby liking him being the backup as Bobby tends to like a defensive minded backup catcher. Especially with a young starting catcher, Bobby would like a veteran backup catcher like how the Braves handled Javy Lopez. Maybe the Braves will try trading Pena for that veteran backup catcher. I am still proposing the Braves to trade Estrada and Foster to the Rockies for Brian Fuentes. I think Johnny will hit well at Denver!!!
By the way Johnny, Hernandez will be a free agent, and the common opinion is that he will be too expensive for the Padres to resign. That’s why there are lots of rumors saying Estrada being traded to the Padres (since Estrada is from CA).
Estrada, Thompson, HoRo, good prospect and Laroche to the Rangers for Teixeira
If Teixeira is available, I would do anything to get him.
Would be nice to have a McGriff type firstbaseman in his prime. The Jones boys would appreciate it.
That’s not realistic, Fjensen. You’re talking about trading five pretty ordinary players for one of the best hitters in the game. The Rangers would never do that. Heck, if you tried that in a fantasy league they’d block it.
Even if the prospect was Marte that probably wouldn’t be enough.
I think Danny Kolb or Teixeira would be a fair trade, don’t you think so Danny?!
Alrighty then, back to the drawing board. I would like to see that package of players go for something useful.
You can’t send McCann back down after he’s homered twice in postseason. He’s arrived.
I love it, the Angels beat the Yankees. You know, thinking back, the offense isn’t really the problem. The problem is pitching. As much as I want the Braves to add Brain Giles, I think it is more important to get a frontline starting pitcher to go along with Smoltz and Hudson. Preferably, he will be a frontline lefty on his last year of his contract or arbitration year so that he will leave when Hampton comes back. The starting rotation of Smoltz, Hudson, Thomson, Ramirez, and Sosa is just not good enough. I would prefer keep Sosa in the bullpen as an insurance of John’s health or if the rookie falters. I think I will do some research around the league to see if such lefty exists as I think Barry Zito is on a long term contract and is not available for trade.
No, I don’t want Glavine coming back, I don’t mind him being a fourth starter, but he is not good enough to be a top three now honestly speaking.
kc, looking at how HOTT the other Santana was in the game just now, and how he’s been emerging all season, Jarrod Washburn might end up being available. Of course, he has some games left to play, and they’re the kind of games that go a long way to determining his value in the offseason.
I think we have to trade Estrada. As was pointed out earlier, we don’t want to pay him to sit on the bench behind McCann. All he will do is sulk (did anyone else catch that shot of him near the end of the game yesterday, pure sulkage). All it will do is cause resentment in the clubhouse and that is the last thing any team needs.
Did anyone read AJC this morniing? Jordan wants to continue playing based on the double he hit off of Roger Clemons on Sunday. Delusional, simply delusional.
Also a very interesting outlook on what they think the team will do in the off season.
They believe that we’ll trade Estrada.
One last thing. Yes the Braves can send McCann down to Richmond. And they should if he goes into a prolonged slump. He had a terrific season but SMALL SAMPLE SIZE! There I said it. We should keep Estrada and let him and McCann play it out for the starters role on the team. This is a luxury that every other team doesn’t have, 2 potential #1 catchers.
I think we should wait and see how the free agent market sifts out. What teams are looking for a catcher? Are there any viable FAs to fill the need. Would they trade a relief pitcher who could get some people out for him? If we can shore up our pen by trading Estrada we ought to do it and take our chances with Pena backing up Brian pending Salty’s arrival. (That could be one of the fun 06 or 07 dilemas: Salty or Brian?)
Seems to me the die has been cast with Estrada and McCann. McCann caught most of the playoffs. It seems to me you have essentially annointed him the catcher. I think Estrada will be gone and I think he has some trade value. You could do a lot worse–there aren’t many Johnny Benchs out there.
As a matter of fact, i think the Braves will be active traders; they have an excess in some positions. I think they will trade one of the young outfielders and, conceivably, Marte, perhaps for another starting pitcher.
Perhaps Marte and Betemit can spend winter ball playing shortstop. See if they have what it takes defensively.
Catchers? An interesting place to start, Mac. Are you trying to make us all feel better?
There ought to be a pretty good market for Estrada out there. After Ben Molina (who I think will stay in LA) and Ramon Hernandez (who will probably move), there isn’t much, unless you think Piazza is a still a catcher. What’s more, Estrada is young and will at least starter quality at a backup price. Don’t underestimate the most valuable commodity in the Majors, inexpensive talent. We would not be selling as high as we would have last year, but the market should be good.
If you want Todd Pratt as a backup, he is a FA.
Looking ahead, I think Salty will be ready by 2007. That 2nd half at Coastal Federal Field? Wow! But, I think the Braves move him along slowly, knowing their wealth at the position, forcing a decision between Salty and McCann around 2008.
Behind Salty, we have Sammons and Max Ramirez who were both allstars in their respective leagues.
IMO, we should trade Pena and Estrada to fill pitching holes and add some young arms to our system. But, I bet we keep Estrada for one more year, which is the safer play.