Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An In-House Solution at Catcher for Red Sox?

Though Josh Bard is already locked in behind the plate, the Red Sox still need to secure his battery mate.

The speculation has been that the second spot will go to either free agent Jason Varitek, or one of three young catchers: Miguel Montero of the Diamondbacks, Taylor Teagarden of the Rangers, or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, also of the Rangers.

It may well end up being none of the above.

Don't be surprised if the Red Sox go with a catcher already in their organization.

That's because the Sox could probably get league-average production from the combination of Josh Bard and 25-year-old George Kottaras, whom the Sox obtained from San Diego in 2006. The Sox gave up David Wells in the exchange, viewing Kottaras as the catcher of the future.

Well, the future has arrived. The Sox eventually need to give Kottaras playing time in order to find out if they have a big league catcher on their hands. Though his batting average at Pawtucket last summer was hardly inspiring, Kottaras had a fantastic OBP, and his other numbers were respectable as well: 22 HR, 65 RBI, .243/.348/.456.

And 26-year-old Dusty Brown put up the following numbers at Pawtucket: 12 HR, 55 RBI, .290/.377/.471

If the Sox think they can compete with Bard and Kottaras (or possibly, yet less likely, Brown) for the first few months, they may just wait to see which catchers become available when the projected salary dumps begin next summer.

Because of the Rangers insistence on receiving Clay Buchholz in any trade, most of the current speculation has centered on the 25-year old Montero.

Yet, it's tough to get excited about Montero's big league numbers. So far, it's all been about minor league success and Major League potential, which is often the case with prospects. Based on those numbers, Montero doesn't seem like a better alternative to Kottaras, or even Brown.

Montero batted just .239 in 414 career at-bats over parts of three major league seasons, With 15 home runs, he's shown some power, as well as a plate discipline that's resulted in roughly one walk every 10 at-bats. Since he's been shuttled to and from the Majors in recent years, spending relatively little time at Double A and above, the consensus seems to be that he just needs regular playing time and consistent at-bats.

But that doesn't inspire confidence. However, there is speculation that Theo Epstein is simply trying to use Montero as leverage to bring down the Rangers demands for Saltalamacchia, or Boras' demands for Varitek.

No matter, the Sox may have a better alternative in house. To this point, Kottaras has shown more power and a higher OBP than Montero. The following illustrates that point:

Montero - .2006, between Double A and Triple A: .286, 17 HR, 75 RBIs in 117 games

Kotarras - 2008, at Pawtucket: .243/.348/.456, 22 HR, 65 RBI in 107 games

So, why trade for Montero? Perhaps this is just a negotiating tactic by Epstein, but any GM should be able to see right through it.

At this point, it doesn't appear that the Red Sox really want to trade Michael Bowden, much less Buchholz. The club has been stockpiling pitchers because they might need them; Josh Beckett has an injury history, Tim Wakefield is 42, and Brad Penny and John Smoltz both have shoulder issues. If one of them gets hurt, the Sox probably want to be able to turn to Buchholz and/or Bowden. Having options, given the number of uncertainties they have, is a wise choice.

It's for these reasons that the Sox may hold onto Buchholz and Bowden, and finally give Kottaras his shot in the Majors. At the least, it would give them a clear indication of the young catcher's potential as he splits time with Bard. And it would also buy the club time as it waits for a tanking team, with tanking revenues, to make a top flight catcher available at mid-season.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

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