Joe Mauer ran away with the MVP this season.
It was only the second time a Catcher has won this award in the last 32 seasons, and there are only 10 catchers* to win it since the writers began deciding the winner in 1931.
*The only multi-year winners were: Roy Campanella (3), Yogi Berra (3) & Johnny Bench (2)...quite a list!
The fact is, there are few Catchers that stand out among their peers. The physical toll of receiving 150 baseballs each of the 162 games eventually wears down the most prospective of talent.
It makes sense that in a year in which Joe Mauer wooed fans and media alike while winning his second straight Gold Glove and becoming the first catcher to lead the league in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage in a single season, he missed the first 22 games of the season due to a lingering lower back problem from 2008 that shortened his season and undoubtedly assisted him in his strong finish.
Overpaying at this position is an activity for large market teams.
The Kansas City Royals merely need to be average at the position.
A few geriatric options have emerged during the Winter Meetings, and each of them can offer something to both Pena's development and the Royals.
The rumor that most stands out is Ivan Rodriguez to the Royals. This makes sense for a variety of reasons:
1) The starting job is still up in the air and—given production—the Royals can offer an everyday gig to him while he is only 289 hits shy of 3000 and looking for employment.
2) I-Rod just turned 38 and doesn't demand the financial compensation he once did. He only earned $1.5 million in base salary last season.
3) While his offense appears to be adequate, the knock on Pena is his defense. Rodriguez has long been regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in history. Much of that may be attributed to a rocket arm, but his blocking around the dish is equally impressive. He will teach the youngster, Pena, much more than the higher priced John Buck can.
4) Rodriguez is a seasoned veteran that can help bring this team of youngsters together and hopefully teach them some maturity. He also has enough name recognition to dilute the influence of Jose Guillen if/when he becomes disgruntled again.
Another interesting option presented by the current meetings is Rod Barajas.
Barajas will do little to surprise; he is a power hitter—20 home run power—that will drive in runs with a low batting average and OPS.
His defense is about league average and his arm is about the same*.
* Which would be an upgrade over 2008 since Olivo couldn't block a ball and Buck wouldn't be able to gun down Prince Fielder with a pitch-out.
Rod Barajas is basically a cheaper version of Miguel Olivo who would have been a viable option if not for his price tag.
Jason Kendall , the third emerging option, is washed up. His first 11 seasons he was on pace to deviate from the Catchers mean with his versatile mix of average, speed and occasional power.
He lost his power in 2002.
He lost his speed and on base ability in 2007.
The wear and tear of being a Catcher has already taken it's toll on Kendall. He should not be an option, especially with his exorbitant price tag*. He would be a liability on this team.
*Kendall made $5 million last season.
For what it's worth, none of these ball players are going to make or break 2010 for the Royals. What the right seasoned veteran playing the headiest position on the field does offer this team is maturity and the often referenced "clubhouse presence".
Two things that could help in the development of the Alex Gordon's and Chris Getz's.
Right now the most recognizable Royals are: Zack Greinke (26 years old), Joakim Soria (25), Billy Butler (23) and Jose Guillen (33).
Who do you think young players go to for advice?
A healthy mix of youth and age is needed in Kansas City and what better position to address this at than Catcher...the most uniform position in baseball?