OK, the Bucco catching was pretty awful last year. Offensively, Rod Barajas and Mike Mckenry teamed up for 23 homers, about in the middle of the MLB pack, and that was the bright spot. Their .217 BA put them 26th in the majors, and that 9% throw out rate took the glow off an otherwise pretty fair defensive pairing.
Anyway, Barajas' option for $3.5M wasn't picked up, and he'd like to hook up somewhere west of the Mississippi this time around. We wouldn't be too picky. Hot Rod, 37, who hit .208 and had a 6% success rate against basestealers, is fast approaching a coaching career.
That makes Mike McKenry, 27, who was solid defensively and hit .233.320/.442 with 12 homers, 39 RBI and 73 K in 275 PA last season, the heir apparent in 2013. But that's based on a two month hot spell in June and July, and there is no guarantee he can hold up as a starter.
The FO has to determine how to use The Fort, who is under contractual control through at least 2018. Is he a 100-110 game guy, or does he need to split time or remain a 50-60 game back-up? And is Tony Sanchez, the only upper-level prospect at the position in the system, ready to step into the breach, or will his bat keep him in Indy after camp breaks?
2013's opening behind the plate makes it a good time to get him some break-in work behind The Fort. But the team could decide to keep Sanchez on the farm a while longer to work on his swing, and check the market, both FA and trade, if they choose another route.
Atlanta's Brian McCann ($12M) and the Phil's Carlos Ruiz ($5M) had their options picked up. The top of the crop in the FA market this year are the White Sox AJ Pierzynski, the Angels' Mike Napoli and the Yankees' Russell Martin.
Pierzynski, 35, lit it up during his walk year, hitting .277 with 27 homers and 77 RBI’s, which is not far, except for the home run power, from the norms he's established in 15 seasons. He's a FA largely because Chicago is ready to give Tyler Flowers another shot behind the dish. AJ hasn't caught fewer than 110 games since 2001, so he's a number one guy. Beside, we sorta like the sound of an AJ-to-AJ battery.
How long he'll want a deal to last will be one question; Pierzynski will be 36 in December, so he'll be looking for multiple seasons. His 2012 contract was for $6M, so cost will be another question. He'd fit in nicely with Pittsburgh, but also with a handful of other clubs, and he may end up out of the Pirates' price range.
Napoli is the best stick of the bunch, and the 32 year old has hit at least 20 homers in each of the past five seasons. But last year wasn't one of his better ones, hitting .227/24/56. He's the rich man's Ryan Doumit, catching 60-70 games per season the last three years while spending considerable time at first and DH.
Still, he's just a year removed from a .320 BA and 30 bombs. He'll be looking for a long-term contract and is coming off a $9.4M deal, so we can write him off of Pittsburgh's wish list.
Martin, 29, is the best defensive catcher of the trio. He hasn't hit over .250 since 2009, although he does have some pop, banging out 39 long balls in 2011-12. Martin also has a .352 OBP, and so with youth, defense, power and some sabermetrics going for him, he should be the head of the FA class this year. The catcher was already pulling down $7.5M and should have a big payday coming his way. And it may be with the Yankees, which are said to be very seriously trying to get him back to the Big Apple.
David Ross is next best on the list (EDIT - he signed with the Red Sox), along with Yorvit Torrealba, Gerald Laird, Humberto Quintero, and Kelly Shoppach. Miguel Olivo, Henry Blanco, Brian Schneider, Matt Treanor, Chris Snyder, Ronny Paulino and Barajas form the rest of the gang, not exactly A-list names. There are some possible non-tender guys, too, like Geovany Soto, Jesus Flores, Bob Wilson, George Kotteras and others, but it'll take a little longer for that list to shake out.
The trade market is mostly young guys; the Yankees and Jays have a boatload of talent in their systems. New York, especially if they resign Martin, could offer Francisco Cervelli or Austin Romine. If the Jays go to Chase d'Arnaud, JP Arencibia could be in play.
The main players in the catcher hunt beside the Pirates are the Rangers, Mariners, Mets, Rays and possibly the Indians.
(John Heyman of CBS Sports looked at the market, as did Mark Dowman of MLB.com. Kevin Creagh checked out the field for Pirate Prospects.)