When the Milwaukee Brewers signed Jason Kendall prior to the 2008 season, it was thought he would provide the Brewers with a solid bat, as well as be a stabilizing force behind the plate for the pitching staff.
Two years into his stay in Milwaukee, Kendall has yet to live up to the hype in either instance. He isn't likely to be brought back in 2010, so the Brewers must to figure out what to do with their backstop situation.
In Kendall's 12 years in baseball prior to coming to Milwaukee, he hit better than .290 eight times. He also finished with an on-base percentage above .350 nine times.
Last season Kendall hit .246, with an on-base percentage of .327 in 151 games played. A smaller workload in 2009 was given to Kendall in hopes of improving those numbers.
Kendall has caught less in 2009 but not by much. His .232 average and on-base percentage of .316 in 96 games played this year has turned into a black hole in the Brewers line-up.
He had great success throwing out base runners last season, throwing out 43 percent of would be base stealers. That number has dropped to 21 percent this season.
Kendall also has had issues with his game-calling this year. He is working with two young pitchers, Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra, who have great fastballs. Instead of establishing the fastballs early in the game, he chooses to call for many off-speed pitches that have run up the pitch totals for both players.
Running up pitch totals for young hurlers is a dangerous proposition for the future health of both. Gallardo and Parra are the anchors of this rotation for the next several years, and if the Brewers are to experience any sustainable success, it will be because they are in the rotation and not on the disabled list.
The Brewers have some options they can consider both in and out of the organization. Fans shouldn't expect a huge turn-around in production at the plate no matter who is catching. Great offense from a catcher is a huge luxury that only a few teams in baseball have.
Kendall could be re-signed at a cheaper amount than the $4.6 million he's making this year. He would need to accept a back-up role, however, as he has proven he no longer has value as an every day catcher.
The Brewers could make Mike Rivera the regular catcher in this scenario. He is still cheap and controllable for a couple more seasons, although his production would likely be no better than Kendall's.
Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy are both highly-rated prospects in the Brewers' system. Both are only 23, but neither is ready to be a full-time catcher at the Major League level.
Salome is hitting .279 in 78 games for the Nashville Sounds this season. He has a very strong arm, perhaps the strongest in the entire organization. He could be a good back-up next year, but he would be best served playing every day in the minors for one more season.
Lucroy has caught 100 games for the Huntsville Stars this year. He's hit .263 with seven home runs and 55 runs batted in. He is still a couple years away from being ready for the majors.
A trade could be made for a full-time catcher, but any deal being made would likely cost the Brewers a high prospect. That sort of sacrifice for a catcher isn't worth the risk to the organization, especially with Salome and Lucroy waiting in the minors for their chance.
Several veteran catchers will be free agents after the season that the Brewers will take a look at. Josh Bard, Jose and Bengie Molina, and Rod Barajas will all be available this winter. Of those four, only Bengie Molina is hitting over .250 this season. He is also the only one that would likely command a salary of over a couple million.
The cheapest option for the Brewers next season would be to make Mike Rivera the full-time starter, and make Angel Salome the back-up. This would allow Salome to be brought along slowly. He could gain more playing time should Rivera struggle, or if he were to play well.
It would also give the Brewers payroll flexibility in order to pay arbitration raises and find help for the rotation and bullpen.
The best option as far as production and future value would see a Bengie Molina and Salome duo. Molina is a good bat that plays very good defense. He would also serve as an excellent mentor for Salome.
A deal for Molina that was similar to Kendall's may be enough to lure him away from the Giants; a one-year guarantee with an option for the second year based on incentives worth around $5 million a year.
Catching is a very difficult position to fill for any major league team. The Brewers are in a position to be selective about their catching for 2010. With Salome and Lucroy the future of the position, a stop-gap is all that is needed for the Brewers. The Brewers simply need an average bat that can play solid defense, neither of which Jason Kendall provides as a starter anymore.