Yadi vs. Buster leads All-Star catcher debate
Lucroy, Mesoraco and Saltalamacchia also deserve consideration for NL
Balloting continues for Major League Baseball's 85th All-Star Game on July 15 at Target Field in Minnesota, and fans can cast their votes using the 2014 All-Star Game Ballot Sponsored by Experian. Deciding who should get voted into the starting lineup can be challenging. Today, columnists Richard Justice and Phil Rogers discuss National League catchers.
Justice: I'm sure there won't be a debate about Yadier Molina. He's the gold standard for catchers in both leagues. There may not even be much of a debate about the No. 2 guy -- Buster Posey, right? To state what a lot of people already know: Molina has won six straight NL Gold Glove Awards and made five straight All-Star appearances. He won the NL Silver Slugger at his position last season. As I write this, Molina is first among all catchers in hits and third in RBIs, and he's hitting .336. And as good as he is offensively, it's probably his defense that separates him from every other catcher; his defense may be a huge part of one day getting him into the Hall of Fame. Catcher defense is harder to quantify at some other positions, but I'm not sure there's anyone close to Molina in terms of calling a game, throwing out baserunners and giving pitchers the confidence to know that he has a smart game plan and can stop those pesky breaking pitches in the dirt. On one of baseball's crown jewel franchises, he's the No. 1 guy. What do you think?
Rogers: You're right about Yadi. He should be a lock for his sixth straight All-Star appearance. But I think there can be a real argument over the starting catcher. Posey is, as usual, outhitting Molina and has been very solid behind the plate both catching the Giants' collection of power arms and throwing out runners. He's usually in the 30 percent range in terms of caught stealings and is right there again this year. How much credit should Posey get for the Giants' surprising start? I think he has a whole lot to do with that team winning. Yes, they've added some valuable bats -- Michael Morse in particular -- but Posey is their one real two-way player at a critical position. I think you can go Posey over Yadi. But before we just limit it to a two-man race, what about Jonathan Lucroy? He's a huge two-way contributor for the Brewers, who have been baseball's best story. Is it a three-way debate between Molina, Posey and Lucroy? Or do you have other guys you want to consider?
Justice: I agree with you about Posey. He's indispensable to the Giants. When Posey went down in 2011, it was a blow to their repeat hopes, maybe emotionally as much as physically. To see a player produce the way he has offensively while doing the toughest job on the field is just amazing. Remember how much we'd heard about Posey before he even played a game? These kids get hyped to the max all the time. In his case, he turned out to be the real deal on every level. One thing to be said about Molina: He'll turn 32 years old this summer and pass 1,300 games caught. That'll put him in the top 50 all time, and we've seen catchers decline rapidly at about that point in their careers.
So for both Molina and Posey, how much longer? Devin Mesoraco, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Lucroy have a higher OPS than Molina, and Mesoraco, Lucroy and Posey have higher WARs, according to BaseballReference.com. And that leads to the annual question of whether the All-Star berths should go to the game's "stars" or to the players having the best 2014 season.
Rogers: I love the fan vote, and I always have. It seems like those spots go to the guys that fans want in the game, but then I think it should come down to guys having impactful seasons. To me, that puts Lucroy and Saltalamacchia into the conversation with Yadi and Buster. I think Lucroy would be a real smart pick, as over the last few years, the Brewers have only been at their best when he played. He's a solid all-around player -- the pitch-framing experts like him -- and a tough out in important spots. Lucroy's power numbers have been ramping up, too, so I give him quite a bit of credit for the Brewers' success. But really, other than to try to show somebody how smart we are, we shouldn't expand the conversation between the two brand names. In terms of the best catcher in the NL, it's either Molina, if you love the intangibles, or Posey, if you like a solid catcher who can really hit. If I was building a team, I'd take Posey over Molina, because you get so much more offense from the catcher spot with him over the average guy. Are you going to argue for Molina or just come over to my side?
Justice: Perfectly OK to have the "stars" in the game. We expect them there. And to the first-timers, it's another acknowledgement that they've arrived when they're given a locker in the clubhouse with Derek Jeter or Molina. That's also one of the best parts of the All-Star Game, seeing, not just the most popular players, but the next wave of stars, seeing the game evolve right in front of our eyes. Last year at Citi Field, we had Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Chris Davis, Jason Kipnis, Paul Goldschmidt and others in their first All-Star Game. To see all those talented players gathered in one place at one time made you feel good about the game and where it's headed, and how rapidly it's going there.