MLB Free Agency: How the Catching Market Shapes Up After Mike Napoli Signing

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 01:  Mike Napoli #25 of the Texas Rangers bats against the Oakland Athletics at Coliseum on October 1, 2012 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With day one of the winter meetings in the books (provided nothing happens late tonight), a number of free agents agreed to new deals, with the biggest of the bunch being the Red Sox signing of Mike Napoli.

According to ESPN, Napoli agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract with Napoli, who is expected to split his time between first base and catcher, depending largely on whether or not incumbent backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia is moved.

Napoli is not the first catcher to agree to a deal this offseason, as Russell Martin signed a two-year, $17 million deal with the Pirates last Thursday after many expected he would return to the Yankees.

The Yankees aren't the only team still looking for an answer behind the plate in 2013, though, as the White Sox, Mets and Rays are all conceivably in the market for a starting catcher.

The Rangers, who parted ways with Napoli after he spent the last two seasons with the team, opted to bring back deadline acquisition Geovany Soto to be their catcher. Soto was non-tendered by Texas but re-signed to a one-year, $2.75 million deal shortly after.

Though Martin and Napoli are gone, the market isn't completely barren as A.J. Pierzynski remains a solid option, albeit a potentially overvalued one after he put together a career year at the age of 35.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the White Sox have indicated that they're ready to hand catching duties to Tyler Flowers if Pierzynski opts not to return. However, after posting .213 BA, seven HR and13 RBI over 136 at-bats, that is far from a safe option.

Where Pierzynski opts to sign will have a major impact on a trio of low-cost veterans who rank as fringe starters at best but will likely be scooped up by whoever loses out on Pierzynski.

Kelly Shoppach (32 years old), Miguel Olivo (34) and Rod Barajas (37) have all been legitimate starters at one point in their careers. They still have some pop offensively but are really best suited to be reserves. As a result, the remaining three teams could look internally as well.

In the Bronx, the Yankees bring back 30-year-old Chris Stewart, who has hit just .217 with four home runs and 26 RBI over 351 career at-bats spanning six seasons. He did hit a career-high .241 last season in 141 at-bats, but he's a backup.

Francisco Cervelli and prospect Austin Romine are also options currently on the 40-man roster, and while the team would love for Romine to seize the job, he played in just 31 games last season due to a back injury and may need more time.

The Rays may very well go another year with Jose Molina as their starter, after they picked up their $1.5 million option on the light-hitting 37-year-old. Jose Lobaton, Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez are the other options on the 40-man roster, though none provide much hope of being the solution.

For the Mets, Josh Thole once appeared to be the answer but a line of .234/.294/.290 in 321 at-bats last season does little to inspire hope moving forward for the 26-year-old.

Anthony Recker is the only other backstop for the Mets. He was claimed off waivers from the Cubs in October, and the 30-year-old has just 66 at-bats and a .152 average in the big leagues. Mike Nickeas also saw big-league action last year, but he was removed from the 40-man roster.

The trade market is an option for these teams as well, and the Blue Jays could be lured into moving one of their two catchers, J.P. Arencibia or Travis d'Arnaud, for the right deal, though it would likely have to be as part of a package for a top-tier starting pitcher.

The Brewers also have a valuable trade chip in Martin Maldonado, who hit .266 BA, with eight HR and 30 RBI playing for the injured Jonathan Lucroy last season but is headed back to a reserve role with him healthy.

All in all, it's a tough year to be in need of a catcher. The signing of Napoli leaves A.J. Pierzynski as the final impact starting option on the market. The dominoes will likely fall once he signs, and it will be interesting to see how the three teams above that miss out on him fill the void behind the plate.