Soto signs one-year deal to be Rangers' No. 1 catcher
After spending year-plus as backup, veteran agrees to deal worth $3.05 million
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have signed a free agent who they say will be their No. 1 catcher in 2014. Geovany Soto, after serving as a backup to A.J. Pierzynski this past season, has moved up the Rangers' depth chart.
"He is our guy," manager Ron Washington said during a conference call Tuesday after the Rangers and Soto agreed to a one-year, $3.05 million contract, which features incentives.
"Catching was an area we had to address, and with Geo we took a big step," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We signed him with the expectation he'll be our regular catcher in 2014."
The Rangers went into the offseason considered one of the prime teams interested in Brian McCann, a seven-time All-Star with the Braves who is also a free agent. But McCann may command a contract beyond what the Rangers are willing to pay, and this could allow them to use their financial resources to address other needs. The Rangers are still looking for significant offensive help, especially in left field and designated hitter. First base is another possibility.
A long shot would be to sign McCann to fill a backup-catcher role, as well as seeing significant time at designated hitter. Soto is the only catcher on the Rangers' 40-man roster, and they are still in the market for a backup. The Rangers do not expect to re-sign Pierzynski, who was not extended a qualifying offer this week.
"There are different ways we could fill that spot with different guys," Daniels said. "We haven't ruled anything out. One would be a traditional backup, or a guy who has his bat in the lineup every day in different spots. There are not a whole lot of guys out on the market that we were really interested in. You don't want to ignore what's there right under your nose."
Soto was the Cubs' No. 1 catcher for four seasons, beginning in 2008, when he was the National League Rookie of the Year. But between injuries and a drop in offensive production, he fell out of that role in '12, and the Rangers acquired him on July 30 of that season as a backup to Mike Napoli. He remained a backup in 2013, but now gets a chance to re-establish himself as a No. 1 catcher.
"I feel great," Soto said. "I feel my whole career I've been a starting catcher, so it's nothing new to me. The Texas Rangers are a great organization, the chemistry in the locker room is unbelievable, and this is a team that can win a championship. I'm glad to be a part of that."
Soto is being given the chance to be the Rangers' No. 1 catcher because they like the way he works with the pitching staff and his leadership in the clubhouse. He also showed significant improvement at the plate this past season with the help of hitting coach Dave Magadan.
"He's done a tremendous job with our pitching staff and he's shown great improvement in his offense," Washington said.
"Geo knows our pitching staff and our pitchers love him," Daniels said. "He gets a lot out of our guys. The staff has a lot of confidence in him. He's a young guy still in his prime."
Soto, who turns 31 in January, played in 54 games for the Rangers in 2013, and hit .245 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs. He had a .328 on-base percentage and a .466 slugging percentage in 163 at-bats. His .794 OPS was the third highest of his career. He hit .324 with a .620 slugging percentage after the All-Star break.
"I stopped trying to do too much and changing too much," Soto said. "Dave just told me to keep it simple and just do what you can. That's what I did and I found myself."
Rangers pitchers had a 3.67 ERA with Soto behind the plate and he threw out 29.4 percent of attempted base stealers. He has been especially effective in working with Yu Darvish to the point where he took over as Darvish's personal catcher at the end of last season.
"Working with pitchers is really important to me," Soto said. "I know each and every one of these guys. I think I have the ability to get into a pitcher's head. I don't know what it is, but guys tell me I can get to the point of understanding them and get them to go the extra mile. I think this pitching staff is going to blossom like never before."