While Joe Mauer and Brian McCann rate as the best-known offensive catchers in baseball, Geovany Soto was the best hitter in the league at that position in 2010.
Though he got only 387 plate appearances due to a mixture of injuries and managerial stupidity, Soto logged a career-best .890 OPS and socked 17 home runs.
He did all that despite batting mostly seventh and eighth for the Cubs. National League hitters performed nine percent worse than their overall numbers when batting in those slots in 2010, so if Soto had been batting fourth (where he belonged in a beleaguered Cubs lineup, and where batters were 17 percent better than their baseline in 2010), he might well have hit 22 homers and finished with an OPS north of .920.
For perspective, the last Cubs catcher with numbers in that strata was Gabby Hartnett, when he won the MVP in 1935.
Yet the Cubs elected to tender a contract to Koyie Hill this winter (for reasons surpassing any understanding) and then claimed catcher Max Ramirez off waivers from the Red Sox this week. Those two, along with prospect Welington Castillo, will ostensibly compete to become Soto's backup in 2011.
But what if the Cubs have other ideas? Jim Hendry has never shown a special affinity for Soto, and the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year reached arbitration for the first time this season and got a $3 million, one-year deal. The Cubs could have offered a multi-year extension, but they chose to go year-to-year with their star catcher.
Would Chicago be willing to trade Soto and give the nod to either Ramirez or Castillo as the starting catcher? Almost certainly, given their budget constraints, the answer is yes. Soto should fetch a good price on the market too, with a number of potential contenders in need of a catcher.
Read on for five possible destinations for Soto.