Originally published at TwinsMVB.com .
I participated in a Twitter debate last night that spanned several hours.
The topic? “Who should start the season as back-up catcher: Wilson Ramos or Drew Butera?”
While very intense, it also cast an illuminating light onto how badly the regular season is needed so we can all move on to more meaningful discussion topics.
While I try to justify wasting a couple of hours debating the temporary backup catcher role, I'll remind you of something Allen Iverson said: “Practice? We're talking about practice? I'm the star player and we're talking about practice?”
Just replace “practice” with “temporary backup catcher,” and “I'm the star player” with “We have the star player” and Iverson's sentiments echo my own.
The Twins have the best catcher in baseball in Joe Mauer. Why are we even discussing who should be the backup catcher for a few months?
As Eric Johnson said , “So let's be honest, the Twins could put one of those screens that bounces the ball back to you (you know, the ones that everyone had as a kid) behind the plate and it probably wouldn't cost them any games.”
But, as the regular season has yet to grace us with her presence, I'll take some time to address this issue.
Jose Morales was the Twins' backup catcher last year and did an admirable job, hitting .311/.381/.361 in 134 plate appearances over 54 games.
While he absolutely won't be able to continue to hit at that average, he is certainly a viable option for the Twins in both the backup catcher role and as a pinch-hitter off the bench, even though he has no power.
Morales, however, had wrist surgery this past January is expected to miss at least a month of the regular season. This rough estimate has hardly been verified, though, and some are questioning its authenticity.
In my (very uninformed) opinion, the Twins will be lacking Morales for two months at the very most. Who replaces him as backup catcher for those two months matters to me almost as much as what I ate for lunch today matters to you.
Which is not much.
The bottom line is this: Wilson Ramos is a better player than Drew Butera. Minnesota fans would be thrilled if Butera could maintain a .200 batting average over the course of the season. His defensive abilities are well documented, but he is a clear liability at the plate.
If the Twins care solely about adding half a win to their regular season total, they will let Ramos sit on the major-league bench for the first third of the season.
More likely, however, is that the Twins care about Ramos as a prospect—and his potential trade value—and will allow him to hit away in Triple-A, (where he has yet to take an at-bat, by the way.)
There are several ways you could give Ramos consistent playing time with the big-league club, but none of which that wouldn't limit the playing time of others.
Ramos could be the designated hitter twice a week, or he could even be stuck out in left field for a game or two.
Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, and even Delmon Young or Michael Cuddyer could receive fewer at-bats if Ramos were given the backup catcher job for Opening Day.
Isolating Ramos' future, it is clear that he would be best served by beginning 2010 with the Rochester Red Wings. Sitting on the bench would do nothing for his development, nor his trade potential.*
*I hold the mostly unpopular opinion that Ramos should eventually be traded. He is a great catching prospect who is stuck behind the best catcher in baseball, who is locked up for the foreseeable future.
Some suggest that Ramos should ease into the catcher role while Mauer eases out of it, but that process (hopefully) would take three or four years. Mauer will be behind the plate as often as possible for as long as possible.
Ramos will either need to be a regular DH, learn a new position or be traded. Jason Kubel is a perfectly acceptable DH with no other position and Ramos is a good defensive catcher and won't accept a position change without some resistance.
That isn't to say the Twins should unload Ramos for the first player they find attractive (see: Bell, Heath), but they should eventually trade the catching prospect.
It comes down to this: If the Twins have nothing but their own 2010 success as a purpose, they will probably give Ramos the nod to start the 2010 season.
If Bill Smith understands Ramos' prospect status and that he hasn't played above Double-A in his career, he will allow the 22-year-old time to develop.
The Twins have a special catching prospect on their hands and would be best served by not spoiling him.