This is the first part of a series previewing the MLB trade market.
The position of catcher is at higher demand than anything right now. The best ones in free agency right now are Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Varitek.
Both of them are washed-up and it's unlikely that we'll ever see studs like Joe Mauer or Brian McCann ever hit the open market.
Some teams are lucky enough to have a surplus at the position and they're enjoying every minute of it.
Here are all the catchers that might be available this offseason, from the good to the bad.
Let's start at the Rangers. The Rangers have what most franchises don't. That would be four catchers potentially ready or close to ready for the big leagues. They are: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, Gerald Laird, and Max Ramirez.
Laird is as good as gone. He provides a decent bat, with an OPS+ of 92 (above average for a catcher). His defense is above average. Laird has a strong arm and he is above average against lefties. Although he's the most proven Texas catcher, he's reached his ceiling and doesn't have the upside of Salty or Teagarden.
However, I can't see Salty being traded. In 2007, he was the centerpiece of a deal that sent franchise player Mark Teixeira to the Braves. He can be a great hitter one day, which will make up for his mediocre defense. He has star potential and he should stay with the Rangers during their rejuvinating process.
Teagarden is as good a defender as any catching prospect. He has struggled to show his power at the plate in AAA, but his strikezone management shows he can be a decent hitter. Some teams value Teagarden over Salty right now, but it comes down to how the Rangers value them.
Ramirez is a great hitter, but he's been awful behind the plate in the minors. He projects to be a first baseman in the future. That is why his future with the Rangers is the most unpredictable. Some teams may take a chance with him or he may take over as first baseman in 2010 for the Rangers.
The Indians currently are in a better situation than any team at catcher. They have Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, and Carlos Santana, who is in the minors.
There is no chance at all that Martinez is traded. He's been an elite hitter when healthy. Shoppach seems the most likely to be traded though.
The Indians have plenty of needs going into next year whether it's the rotation, the bullpen, or parts of the lineup. Shoppach is an above average defender who finally found his hitting stroke this year, hitting 21 home runs.
The Indians are actually in a position to keep all three. Shoppach can be an everyday catcher. Martinez can be moved to first base if something is done about Garko. And Santana may be the catcher of the future if Martinez hits the open market after 2010, when his contract expires.
Other young guys may be available. Teams with a proven starting catcher may be looking to trade their catching prospects for other team needs.
Bryan Anderson of the Cardinals may not have a place as starting catcher with Yadier Molina. Molina is as good as anyone defensively and his bat has steadily improved.
Anderson is a top catching prospect who has been a consistent hitter at AAA and has an above average glove and arm.
Tyler Flowers on the Braves is blocked by Brian McCann. Flowers may be the best hitting catcher in the minors besides the Orioles' Matt Wieters. Flowers has been successful in Arizona Fall League. His minor league K/BB ratio is only 0.8 and he has plenty of power.
There are some veterans who could be available as well. While there's some teams with good prospects being blocked by catchers in the majors, the opposite has been occurring as well. In this case, there are veteran catchers who may be forced out by young catchers with higher upside.
Kenji Johjima of the Mariners may be forced out by Jeff Clement. Johjima's bat is declining at an early age, like most catchers. His lack of plate discipline is part of the problem. But at a time where there is a high demand for catcher, Johjima may be better than anyone in free agency. During the Mariners' rebuilding process, Clement is more likely to stay.
Ramon Hernandez of the Orioles doesn't have a lot of value, but he'll appeal to some because he's only a one year commitment. Part of his salary may have to be paid because of his declining bat along with his already below-average defense. He could also be part of a deadline deal because Wieters won't be ready at the start of the season.
Benjie Molina of the Giants may be forced out with the Giants' surplus of young catching. Molina is still a good offensive catcher and select teams will like his .292 average. At only $6 for a year remaining on his contract, Molina is worth the price.
Yorvit Torrealba is an above average backup catcher, who has lost his starting job to Chris Ianetta. Torrealba is a free swinger, but his arm strength is as good as anyone's. He can platoon with catchers who teams aren't confident in making everyday players.
Although Jeff Mathis of the Angels has been ineffective in the majors, he has value because of his potential. Low value, but some teams would be interested in him as a starter. Mike Napoli has more than proven himself as an everyday player an the Angels need offense, for which Mathis could be traded.
What's the probability that these guys are traded? Well, based off my lack of insight, I have organized the guys I mentioned in categories of their probability of being traded:
80% or higher: Gerald Laird, Tyler Flowers (if not this year, eventually), Yorvit Torrealba.
50/50: Taylor Teagarden, Max Ramirez, Bryan Anderson, Kenji Johjima, Benjie Molina, Ramon Hernandez.
Less than likely: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Kelly Shoppach, Jeff Clement, Jeff Mathis.
No chance: Victor Martinez, Carlos Santana.