The offseason has arrived, and the thoughts of Jays fans turn to trades for Joey Votto, signings of Prince Fielder, and landing Japanese/Persian phenoms. The Front Office, however, needs to deal with some much more banal choices, among which is to find a reserve catcher to backup JPA for next season.
Generally speaking, you want a backup catcher to contribute in his own right and work well with the pitchers. For the Blue Jays, we also want a strong defensive catcher to serve as a mentor to JPA, whose defence needs substantial improvement. We also have some great recent studies on pitch framing and pitch blocking which help us evaluate catcher defence.
Jose Molina was great in most areas, especially pitch-framing: but having achieving type-B status, it makes little sense for the Jays to resign him. With Brian Jeroloman having a poor season in Vegas, the Jays will look to the free agent market, where there are lots of flawed options. The list includes Kelly Shoppach, Ryan Doumit, Brian Schneider, Ivan Rodriguez, Dioner Navarro, Jason Varitek, Jorge Posada, Chris Snyder, Henry Blanco, Gerald Laird, Ramon Castro, J.R. Towles, Matt Treanor, Rob Johnson, Josh Bard and Jake Fox. Thankfully, many of these guys are horrid on various defensive aspects. Rob Johnson, Kelly Shoppach, Dioner Navarro and Josh Bard are all well-below average at blocking pitches. Ryan Doumit, Gerald Laird, Matt Treanor and Rob Johnson (again) are among the worst at framing pitches. Jorge Posada, of course, is at the bottom of both lists and should not be catching any longer. That leaves Rodriguez, Varitek, Schnieder, Blanco, Snyder, Castro, Towles and Fox. Jake Fox has played more at third and in the outfield than at catcher, and for good reason: he isn't a very good catcher. J.R. Towles, while not atrocious at any defensive aspect is poor at all of them; in addition, he's a horrible hitter.
Retirement may be likely for Varitek (he will be 40 a few weeks into next season), but he can still hit (84 wRC+ over the past 3 years), and he's been quite good at blocking pitches over the past few years (+2.9 Runs/120 games). He's below average at framing pitches, but not horribly so (-0.5% per pitch). Varitek, of course, cannot throw anyone out on the basepaths any longer (and never was very good at it)
Snyder is the youngest in our group at 31, and probably the most likely to be signed as a starter. He has hit well (86 wRC+ over 3 years), but he's below average at blocking pitches (-2.1 R/120). He's slightly above average at framing pitches (+0.3%), and around average throwing runners out. Snyder was a type-B player, and might offer the best chance at getting a draft pick out of our reserve.
Blanco is old at 40, but he's hit well recently (89 wRC+ 2009-2011, and 127 last year). His lifetime wRC+ is just 65, so some of his hitting prowess is likely mirage. He's exactly average at pitch framing, good at blocking pitches (+1.7 R/120), and well above-average at controlling the running game.
Surprisingly, Castro has been recently the best hitter in this group, nearly league-average (99 wRC+); and at 36 he's a little more likely to sustain his success than Blanco, Varitek and Rodriguez. He's also marginally above-average at blocking pitches and about average at preventing stolen bases, but below-average in pitch framing (-0.5%)
A lefty, Schneider has been platooned over the last three years by the Mets and Phillies, and still only has a 67 wRC+ over that period. Schneider is a little below average at blocking pitches (-0.6 R/120), and a little above average at framing (+0.3%). Early in his career, Schneider was one of the best at throwing out base stealers, but the last two years he's been very poor in that regard.
Quite possibly a hall-of-famer, and one of the best defensive catchers ever, Rodriguez at 40 is no longer the hitter he once was (68 wRC+ over 3 years). However, he remains one of the best defensive catchers around, throwing out 37.5% of base-stealers over the last 3 years, and remaining above-average at pitch blocking (+1.6 R/120) and at framing pitches (+0.1%). He's still a little faster than most catchers, and would be marginally better on the basepaths than the alternatives.
My preferred candidate would be Ivan Rodriguez: I cannot think of a better player to assist JPA in improving defensively, and he should provide some value himself. Schneider doesn't appear to have any significant skills left, and Snyder isn't strong enough at anything defensively to make me think he could be useful as a mentor to JPA, but I was surprised by how decent Henry Blanco and Ramon Castro look, and Varitek could be a good fit as well.