Free Agent Fun with Comps: the Catchers

RussellMartinphoto credit: Malingering via photopin cc

One of the best parts about the bitter disappointment of your favorite team not winning the World Series (or not making it to the postseason again or finishing below .500 for the sixth straight year) is that you can dream about all of the free agents they won’t be able to afford because of a well-publicized Ponzi scheme.

This time of year is fun.

But, in the spirit of the holiday season, with as much joy as I can summon, I’d like to provide one more article1 to ranking the current crop of free agents. Since there are so many articles out there already, and my list will look identical to Keith Law’s because I would steal shamelessly, I’ve decided to discuss each player based on Bill James’ Similarity Score as provided by Baseball-Reference.

The concept is simple: I find the player closest to a particular player based on age, and then I decide if I’d offer the former player a contract or the current one. It’s goofy. It’s silly. It’s just the sort of thing that will help me cope with the prospect of another season with Wilmer Flores at shortstop or a Jed Lowrie overpay.

In today’s post, I discuss the catchers.


Ugh. J.P. Arencibia is the youngest free agent amongst the catchers, and at the downright youthful age of 29 he’s the only one under 30. Russell Martin is the obvious prize with perhaps someone taking a flyer on a 35-year old Gerald Laird having a bounce back season, but the group doesn’t inspire confidence. It’s largely a group of back-ups (as opposed to legitimate backstops) and one-year rentals.

For those not willing to surrender a draft pick or 14-15 million a year for Martin, Nick Hundley is available and will likely draw significant interest.2 There’s also Geovany Soto who sits precisely at the median group age of 32, which has no significance other than he’s not destined to be a team’s bullpen catcher by season’s end unlike a few of the others.

All players listed below are by career bWAR and free agent listings via MLB Trade Rumors.

Current Player Age Closest Comp Favorite Comp Pick
Russell Martin 32 Frankie Hayes Tony Pena Martin
A.J. Pierzynski 38 Benito Santiago Carlton Fisk Santiago
Geovany Soto 32 Ozzie Virgil Jason Varitek Soto
David Ross 38 Kelly Stinnett Elrod Hendricks
Gerald Laird 35 Jeff Reed Scott Servais Reed
Nick Hundley 31 Scott Servais Scott Servais Hundley
John Buck 34 Jody Davis Darren Daulton Buck
J.P. Arencibia 29 Duke Sims Mickey Tettleton Sims
Chris Gimenez 32
Brett Hayes 31
Wil Nieves 36 Frank Grube Dixie Howell Nieves

Catchers by Comps

1. Russell Martin – Martin wins this by default over Hayes since Frankie played just five games for the Boston Red Sox in his age 32 season, hitting .154 and having an OPS+ of -17, which would make this only a legitimate debate if we subbed in Darwin Barney for Martin. Tony Pena had some decent seasons in him after 32, notably in 1990 when he hit .263/.322/.348 and in 1991 when he won a Gold Glove. Even if Pena was the closest comp, I’d still go with Martin. I’d limit my exposure at two years if possible, but a deal short of four years isn’t bringing Martin to town and likely isn’t worth the draft pick compensation.

2. A.J. Pierzynski – Santiago played in 55 games in the two years after his age 38 season, and I’d still take him of Pierzynski. He looked old last season, and I can’t imagine he’s going to get better with age. If he’s willing to sign for the league minimum, Pierzynski will find some takers, but he won’t make the 8+ million he made last year when he signed with the Red Sox in the offseason.

Soto3. Geovany Soto – This one is similar to Martin in that Virgil played just 12 games with Toronto in his age 32-33 seasons. I always liked Ozzie when he was with the Braves. I wanted to pick him regardless. Still. Soto will sign with someone, and he’ll be just good enough to be a valuable backup to spell your starter, but he’s not the guy who started for the Cubs back in the early aughts.

4. David Ross – Ross will be 38 and hit just .184/.260/.368 for Boston last season in 50 games. He did hit seven home runs. That’s nice. Kelly Stinnett hit .159/.207/.232 in his age 37 season and called it a career. You can draw your own conclusions.

5. Gerald Laird – Wow. Laird sort of turned back into Gerald Laird again last season didn’t he? After two surprisingly productive seasons with Detroit and Atlanta in 2012-13, Laird reverted to the offensive black hole from his former years. Eh. Whatever. As a backup making around 1.5 million, you can’t go wrong. For this exercise, I’d still opt for Reed who had one decent season before becoming sub replacement (and that’s even playing in Colorado).

6. Nick Hundley – Buyer beware. Hundley’s closest comp had one good season and two okay ones before entering his age 31 season (essentially the same resume Hundley boasts), and Servais was sub replacement after. Maybe watching him play with Baltimore softened me on Hundley, but I’d take a flyer. He’s 31, likely won’t cost too much, and he has a little pop in his bat. The Orioles will probably resign him if they can get him cheaper than five million a year, but I think he signs elsewhere for more.

7. John Buck – I’m a little sweet on Buck after how he carried the Mets offense (loosely speaking) in April 2013. He hit nine home runs that April, then proceeded to hit seven more total since then. I really liked Jody Davis too, but he played 12 games when he was 33 and retired. Buck will sign somewhere, as a backup, and probably be sub replacement level, but he gets my vote because of April and he was part of the trade that brought Noah Sydergaard and Travis d’Arnaud to the Mets.

Thanks for the memories, JB!

8. J.P. Arencibia – Duke Sims hit 23 home runs when he was 29 and 18 the year prior (he reached double figures in four straight seasons from 1967-1970), but once he reached his 30s he was kind of through. Arencibia posted three straight seasons of positive bWAR prior to last year, and will likely sign somewhere for a decent enough salary. I’d still take Sims. The obvious player here to choose is Mickey Tettleton and those ridiculous guns of his.

Poor Ben McDonald. Tettleton crushed 30+ homers in four seasons after turning 30 (three straight from 1991-93) and walked over 100 times in five seasons from age 29 on. Let’s just say that’s not Arencibia. I miss Mickey Tettleton. I’m glad his name popped up in the similarity rankings.

9. Chris Gimenez – Gimenez has bounced around the minors for a decade, making occasional visits to the Majors. I want him to sign somewhere because he’s too good for slow pitch softball and he has a dream to play big league ball. There are no comps listed other than every other guy who’s worked his butt off to wear a professional jersey.

10. Brett Hayes – Hayes will resign somewhere because baseball is a superstitious game, and he played 32 total games for the Royals last two seasons (27 in ’14) when they went above .500 for the first time in a decade and appeared in 40 total games for the last two seasons where the Marlins were above .500 (never mind the subsequent two years in Miami. The Royals, savvy as ever, saw a pattern and dropped him before the curse could kick in.). The Mets would be wise to lock him up for two years.

11. Wil Nieves – Frank Grube was out of baseball from 1937-40 and returned to play 18 games with the St. Louis Browns when he was 36. He hit .154/.195/.205. Nieves will surpass those lofty standards. Still. Nieves is 37 and fits the Phillies model of older players without a lot of upside. He’s not leaving PA.

Well, that was fun. I’ll next move onto first basemen.

Geovany Soto photo credit: Bill Hunter via photopin cc

  1. This is not true. There will be many, many such posts.
  2. I just wrote that and meant it. This group is depressing.

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