Dave and Andy were having an interesting discussion last night about Jeff Keppinger. The question was based on an optimistic premise. What do the Rays do with Jeff Keppinger when Evan Longoria returns to third base? While I don’t share their optimism about Longo, the question raised an interesting point when Dave asked ‘can Keppinger catch?’
Obviously, the hole behind the plate at the Trop has grown from a weakness in 2011 to a complete abyss in 2012. I nearly wrote an entire post yesterday about Jose Molina’s first-inning passed ball that allowed Cleveland’s first run … on a pitch that was called a strike. I just couldn’t muster the effort to write more bad things about him because, I didn’t think I would be adding anything no one else has already said.
The reality is, Molina is going to be in our lineup because we have no other option and, aren’t likely to have any other option. If there was an option at AAA we’d already have seen it. At this point Jose Lobaton is all we got. Perhaps Robinson Chirinos will get over his concussion issue but, even if he does, how good can he be without seeing a live pitch all year? Chris Gimenez isn’t an improvement. Neither is Stephen Vogt.
Also, to Dave’s point, the Rays aren’t likely to add a catcher at the trade deadline (assuming, for the sake of argument, they choose to be ‘buyers’ in the annual endless debate in which teams are somehow required to sort themselves into buyers and sellers). I can’t find an online resource listing all deadline trades by year but, working from memory, I think Victor Martinez is the only impact “catcher” to be traded at the deadline when he went from Cleveland to Boston in 2009 for a pretty high price (anyone think Boston wishes they had Chris Perez right about now?). Pudge Rodriguez was traded in 2008 and again in 2009 but he was long past his days as an impact player. Jason Kendall was traded in 2007, long after his days as an All Star. Jason Varitek made one plate appearance in 1997 after the Red Sox acquired him for Heathcliff Slocum.
I don’t see the 2012 market for catchers being fundamentally different. I also think the Rays have decided, as part of their overall spending plan, that they are just going to have inexpensive catchers because the return-on-investment behind the plate is generally low. There are very few ‘impact’ catchers in the big leagues so the Rays aren’t going to waste resources chasing one. I suppose this is the position-player parallel to the Rays’ approach to closers. They just simply haven’t been able to catch lightning in a bottle behind the plate like they did at the back-end of the bullpen.
Unfortunately, that means we have many more nights of watching Jose Molina stagger to the backstop desperately looking for a baseball like an old lady looks for a contact lens in her shag carpeting. Is it winter yet?