Considering general manager Ned Colletti's most recent compulsions to snag former San Francisco Giants players from the free agent market and the Los Angeles Dodgers' need for depth at the catching position, it may come as no surprise if veteran catcher Bengie Molina becomes Colletti's next target.
After an $80 million dollar spending spree already this winter, the Dodgers have addressed a number of holes in the roster, yet with Rod Barajas, Dioner Navarro and A.J. Ellis headlining the catcher candidates for 2011, Los Angeles fans everywhere would feel much more comfortable with better potential for production behind the dish.
At 35 years of age, Barajas' durability as an everyday backstop remains in question. His other problem area has been getting on base—in 99 total games last season, he managed only a .284 OBP, matching the average for his career.
Colletti, however, may see something in Barajas that many others don't. After earning only $500,000 total in 2010, the Dodgers GM signed Barajas to a one-year, $3.25 million deal just days after the club non-tendered longtime Dodger Russell Martin. Barajas' 2011 salary will be the most he's earned for one year during his entire career.
Navarro, who after an injury in 2006 was replaced as the Dodgers' starting catcher by Martin, returns to the club and hopes to see a significant amount of playing time behind Barajas. After being selected to the American League All-Star squad as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, Navarro hit just .218 in 115 games in 2009, then mustered a meager .194 average in 48 total games for the Rays last season. At 26 years-old, Navarro hopes to regain the form he showed only three years earlier.
Ellis, 29, brings a career .256 average to the plate and hopes to compete with Navarro for the back-up catching role. Ellis' downfall is that he has no power capability whatsoever, which is indicated by his career .298 slugging percentage. In terms of extra-base hits, he has five doubles, zero triples and no home runs in 140 career plate appearances.
As for glove work, all three are relatively solid and dependable. Ellis' career caught-stealing percentage is 27 percent, and may have the weakest arm of the three. Barajas boasts a 32 percent rate over 12 major league seasons, while Navarro registers a career 30 percent mark.
Bengie Molina wouldn't help the Dodgers get any younger, but paired with Barajas, he may provide Los Angeles with a much more powerful offensive punch.
At 36 years of age, Molina is a career .274 hitter, and in 2009 with the Giants hit 25 doubles, 20 home runs and 80 RBI while tallying a .265 batting average. Playing 145 games in 2008, the former Gold Glove winner hit .292 with 33 doubles, 16 home runs and 95 RBI.
Rumors had Molina linked to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he would join his brother Yadier, but those rumblings were squashed when the Cards signed Gerald Laird as a back-up catcher earlier this week.
The free agent market for catchers was relatively thin at the beginning of the offseason. With players such as John Buck, Ramon Hernandez, Miguel Olivo, Yorvit Torrealba and A.J. Pierzynski either being snatched quickly or re-signed by their former clubs, there weren't many available options for the Dodgers.
Pierzynski was probably the closest of any to wearing Dodger Blue next season. Upon reaching a new deal with the Chicago White Sox, he told the media he was literally minutes away from accepting an offer from Ned Colletti and the Dodgers.
"I was literally a half-second away from being gone," Pierzynski said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. "Right when my agent was picking up the phone to basically call the Dodgers to tell them yes, the White Sox called back, so it ended up working out (for Chicago)."
When the Pierzynski deal fell through just hours before the non-tender deadline, Colletti made one final effort to bring back Russell Martin. However Martin, who reached a deal with the Yankees on Tuesday, refused to accept Colleti's offer of a $4 million base salary which included a number of incentives.
Martin's health remains in question as he is still recovering from an injured hip, and has experienced a dreadful two-year decline in terms of offensive production. Martin earned $5.05 million in 2010.
As for the farm, veteran J.D. Closser reached a deal with the Dodgers and will return to Triple-A Albuquerque next season. Matt Wallach, the son of Dodgers' third base coach Tim Wallach, and Alex Garabedian headline an exciting young crop of catchers at the Double-A level and below.
And while mentioning the farm, Dodgers fans everywhere still cringe at the thought of what could have been a very young but skilled catching duo heading into the future.
Carlos Santana, who may have been the most talented catcher to move through the Dodgers' minor league system in recent history, was dealt to the Cleveland Indians to acquire Casey Blake in 2008, while Lucas May, a former Pacific Coast League All-Star, was traded to the Kansas City Royals in the Scott Podsednik deal just before the trade deadline last summer.
Wallach and Garabedian both may be as close as a little more than a full season away to appearing in the bigs, and folks across Dodgertown are keeping their fingers crossed that Colletti doesn't make the same mistake three times by dealing either one away.
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