It's one of the most important positions in all of sports—the captain of the defense, the leader of the pitching staff. Finding a catcher who can hold his own behind the plate and in the batters box is far from a simple task.
When a prospect shows offensive and defensive ability at the position, they are snatched up early in the draft and promoted quickly through the minor leagues. For teams who aren't lucky (or smart) enough to develop a starting catcher of their own, there is always a group of journeyman catchers ready to contribute.
No, this will not be, as many thought, the offseason of Joe Mauer. But with a few legitimate starting catchers on the market, teams will have options.
The Red Sox long-time captain, and one of the most important players on their two championship squads this decade, Varitek has probably reached the end of the line.
After a solid start to the 2010 season, Tek played just 39 games last year, hitting .232 on the season with an on-base percentage below .300.
Still, there might be something left in the tank. Varitek hit seven home runs in those 39 games last year, and his OPS of .766 was respectable for any catcher.
He's probably done, but if he wants to try and play another year, some team should give him a chance—at the right price of course.
At 39 years old, Henry Blanco is still in the majors.
Blanco still can't hit for his life, as his .215 batting average in limited action for the Mets proved. But he also still has the ability to play good defense behind the plate and chip in 50-60 games as a solid backup for just about any team.
Blanco is nothing special. But you could do worse searching for your No.2 catcher.
Rarely anything but a hole in the lineup, Laird grabs a spot on this list for one reason: he's one of the better defensive catchers in all of baseball.
Laird has had a few solid offensive seasons, particularly his 2006 season in Texas, which was likely Arlington aided. But for his career, he's more than 25-percent worse than the league average hitter. Even for a catcher, that's bad.
Still, he's provided value year-in and year-out. In 2009 for example, he posted a plus-seven behind the plate and he added a win-and-a-half over a replacement-level player.
Good defensive catchers usually work better as backups. That's where Laird belongs.
A career journeyman, Torrealba briefly held the Rockies starting catching job a couple of years ago. But he never really showed why.
This past year, Torrealba's first in San Diego, the catcher hit .271 with a .343 OBP—a large improvement—and a half-decent 107 wRC+. While he only played 95 games, solid defensive catchers with above-average bats are rare.
Do I think Torrealba can repeat last year? No, absolutely not. But he probably earned the chance to try.
The first player to play for both World Series participants in one year since 1998, Molina had an otherwise-terrible 2010 season.
Long considered a solid option behind the plate, a guy who could catch and hit 20 home runs with a respectable batting average, Molina's consistency wore off this past season. The Giants/Rangers catcher hit .249 with just five home runs on the season.
He's still got some name recognition, and he's a couple years removed from a pretty solid season. But he'll probably carry a price tag far higher than his actual worth to any team. A solid option, maybe, but only at the right price—a very low price.
Once one of the game's best offensive catchers, Hernandez faded into obscurity after joining the Orioles in 2006, at the age of 30.
Hernandez had a solid season in 2006, but the next three years were brutal. He seemed another victim of age and the catchers position.
Hernandez entered this past season as the Reds primary catcher for the second straight year, and after a slow start, he really took off in May. In 97 games on the season, Hernandez hit .297 with a .364 OBP and an OPS near .800.
At 34, and with just one tolerable season under his belt in the last four, Hernandez isn't going to garner a big deal this offseason. But he showed last year that he still has some ability and earned another chance to start behind the plate in the big leagues.
For what seemed like forever, John Buck was the Royals promising semi-young catcher who every year seemed to receive some recognition and every year seemed to disappoint.
Debuting with Kansas City at 24 years old, Buck spent six years with the Royals, showing some signs of life (18 home runs in 2007) but ultimately disappointing almost every year.
Had Buck been an above-average defensive catcher, his offensive inconsistency might have been forgiven. But he wasn't, and so his inability to hit over .245 eventually cost him his job in 2009. Approaching 30, his career looked almost over.
But then, last year, Buck was given another shot, this time as the Blue Jays primary catcher. In 118 games, he finally showed what he could do, hitting .281 with 23 home runs and a .802 OPS.
Buck isn't too old, and he finally delivered on his promise last season. While I'm not sure I trust him to ever replicate last year, he's worth a shot. The upside is a catcher who hits at a well-above league average level.
In a game where catchers have short shelf lives, it seems like Pierzynski has been around forever. It's hard to imagine that he's still only 33 years old.
If there's one thing you know you can get out of AJ Pierzynski, it's consistency. He's nothing special and there really isn't much upside to signing this guy. But he'll start 130 games, play solid defense and not hurt you too badly at the plate.
Not a ringing endorsement, but then again he's 33 years old, he's a catcher and he's very durable. He's worth something to someone.
Who led Major League Baseball catchers in defensive runs last season? The answer is Miguel Olivo.
Long a solid defensive catcher with a decent amount of pop, Olivo has elevated his game the past couple of years, opting for a more patient approach (he walked just seven times in 2008, about two percent of the time, compared to over six percent of the time in 2010) and producing career highs in wOBA and Wins Above Replacement.
Olivo's offensive transformation has taken him from being a horrible offensive player with solid defensive skills, to a good defender who can also hit at an above-average rate, playing a very important position. Fangraphs estimates Olivo's 2010 value at $13 million.
Olivo has certainly made himself some money. But he's no star and his drop in home run production might scare a few teams away. Still, he's only a couple months older than Victor Martinez and he was about 80 percent as valuable last season. He could really help a team going forward and he can probably be had at a decent price.
Long one of the games best offensive catchers, Victor Martinez was traded to Boston in 2009, where he has had moderate success at the plate.
After a very nice year in 2009, Martinez struggled a bit this past season. But he still finished the year with an average over .300 and 20 home runs for the fourth time in his big league career.
His biggest challenge this past season was getting on base, as his walk percentage dropped from 11.2-percent in 2009 all the way to 7.4-percent last year. This is uncharacteristic of Martinez, who generally walks at an above league-average rate. He should be able to get on base more going forward.
While V-Mart isn't a Gold Glove caliber defender, he's made improvements behind the plate, and at 31, he still has a few good years left. For a team in need of some offense, Martinez could be a smart, albeit expensive, investment.