Rangers eye free-agent catcher to complement Chirinos
Hundley an option on open market, or club could look to sign a familiar face
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers will not forget about their catching situation as they move into the offseason. The intriguing question is if they will remember some of the catchers who have been here before or if they will spend a little extra money to sign Nick Hundley.
The Rangers aren't looking for a big fix at catcher. The club liked what Robinson Chirinos did last season, and it likes what the future holds for Jorge Alfaro, Tomas Telis and others in its farm system.
But finding a veteran to pair with Chirinos is one of Texas' priorities this offseason, and looking into the club's own past may be one way to find that player.
"We like the depth we've built at the upper levels of the system, and [we] have confidence in Chirinos in the big leagues," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We'd like to add a complement to him and let some of the younger guys develop."
The problem is this is a thin free-agent market for catchers. Basically, it comes down to Russell Martin and everybody else. The list of everybody else includes former Rangers catchers A.J. Pierzynski, Gerald Laird, Geovany Soto, Taylor Teagarden and J.P. Arencibia.
Pierzynski, who turns 38 on Dec. 30, was the Rangers' starting catcher in 2013. He signed with the Red Sox as a free agent, was released on July 16 and finished the season as a reserve for the Cardinals. Pierzynski has two traits that still have appeal: He is durable, and he is the only left-handed-hitting catcher on the free-agent market.
Pierzynski's power diminished significantly last year (.337 slugging percentage), and his on-base percentage fell to .288. But he might still be a fit if he is willing to accept a reserve role going into Spring Training for the first time in his career.
Laird has had to do that. He was the Rangers' Opening Day catcher in 2007-08, but Laird hasn't had over 175 at-bats in any of the past four seasons while serving as a backup with the Cardinals, Tigers and Braves. Laird's .204 batting average last season with Atlanta was a career low, but he did hit a combined .281 in 2012-13. Laird threw out 25 percent of attempted basestealers last season, but he also had seven passed balls in 48 games behind the plate.
Soto was supposed to be Texas' catcher last season. But he missed half the season after undergoing right knee surgery at the end of Spring Training and then more time after the All-Star break with a strained groin muscle. Soto ended up playing in 10 games for the Rangers before being dealt to the A's for cash.
The Rangers sent Soto to Oakland as a courtesy, so he could have a chance to play in the postseason, and so they could look at Telis in the final five weeks. Soto's health issues would make any team wary, but he does work well with pitcher Yu Darvish, and he has responded well in the past to hitting coach Dave Magadan.
Teagarden is a former top prospect with the Rangers who has seen limited playing time with the Orioles and Mets the past three seasons. In 54 combined games, he hit .159 with a .203 on-base percentage and a .297 slugging percentage. The former University of Texas product will likely end up being one of those catchers who gets invited to Spring Training annually on a Minor League contract to serve as Triple-A depth.
Arencibia became a free agent after refusing outright assignment by the Rangers to Triple-A. Texas used him at first base and designated hitter in the second half, and he'll likely try to find a catching opportunity elsewhere.
Beyond Martin, the best of the rest of a thin free-agent class includes veterans like Hundley, John Buck, David Ross, Wil Nieves and Ryan Doumit. Out of that group, Hundley could have the most appeal.
Hundley, 31, was the Padres' Opening Day starter in 2010-13, lost that assignment to Rene Rivera this past season and was traded to the Orioles on May 24. The Orioles were looking for catching help with Matt Wieters out for the season, and Hundley shared time with Caleb Joseph. He became a free agent when the O's declined a $5 million team option, but he may be the second-most attractive catcher on the free-agent market behind Martin.
Hundley, highly regarded as a teammate because of his desire and work ethic, has some power and a strong arm. He's had to work hard to develop into a dependable defensive catcher. Hundley has a career .238 batting average, a .294 on-base percentage and a .386 slugging percentage, and he's averaging 26 doubles, 16 home runs and 62 RBIs per 162 games. He could be the catcher the Rangers are looking for to pair with Chirinos.
The Rangers have had interest in Buck, 34, in the past. From 2005-13, Buck caught at least 100 games in eight of nine seasons, but he caught just 19 in '14 while splitting time with the Mariners and Angels. Nieves, meanwhile, is a career backup catcher.
Ross is 37 and has been a highly dependable backup catcher for the Braves and Red Sox the past seven seasons, with an ability to mentor younger players. Doumit's main attraction is he is a switch-hitter who can play multiple positions.