The Black Hole That is Milwaukee Catching

The Brewers have a number of weak spots in their lineup this year, which is part of the reason why they’ve been outscored this season and have had problems finding consistent offense.  While the likes of J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart have been disappointing, there hasn’t been a bigger black hole in Milwaukee’s lineup than the catcher spot.

Catchers are typically weak offensive players, but Jason Kendall has been horrible this year, even by catcher standards.  His back up, Mike Rivera, hasn’t been any better — he’s been even worse in his limited playing time in nearly every statistical category, and is much worse defensively (even though Kendall’s nothing special, either, at his age).  


While Kendall did homer in Houston on Friday night, it was his first
home run since September 5, 2008, and was only the third home run as a
Brewer — one less home run than pitcher Yovani Gallardo has hit in his short big league career.  Heading into Friday night’s game, Kendall had the
second lowest OPS of any player in the Majors, at .584 — only
Cincinnati’s Willy Taveras was worse, and if it weren’t for Dusty
Baker’s obsession with crappy slap-hitting centerfielders, Taveras
wouldn’t be playing in the big leagues. For the purposes of comparison,
Gallardo is OPSing .580 — not a far cry from Kendall’s number

Rivera, meanwhile, has only managed to hit .203/.294/.271 in the few
chances he’s had to play — as bad as Kendall has been, at least he’s
been able to muster an OBP over .300, and has some defensive value. 
Not only has Rivera been a non-factor with the bat, but he’s one of the
worst defensive catchers in the National League.  

It’s clear that the Brewers have a problem here.  The question now is
whether or not the Brewers will be able to do anything in the offseason
to remedy the situation.  Kendall’s contract expires at the end of the
season, while Rivera will continue to make close to the league
minimum.  Catching prospects Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy
look like they’ll eventually make their way to the big league club, but
that may not be on a full-time basis until 2011 and 2012, respectively — Salome has
struggled to hit consistently at Triple A this season and has severe
defensive shortcomings, while Lucroy may end up repeating Double A to
start next year if his bat doesn’t continue to improve.

Given the uncertain futures of the young catchers in the minor league
system, do the Brewers go out and sign a short-term solution, much like
Kendall was intended to be?  The upcoming crop of free agent catchers
is looking pretty slim, and the last trade the Brewers made to acquire
catching (Doug Davis and Dana Eveland for Johnny Estrada) still stands
as one of Doug Melvin’s worst moves during his time in Milwaukee.

So what seems likely?  Unfortunately, it seems like Kendall is
interested in playing past this season and wouldn’t mind finishing out
his career with the Brewers.  If Milwaukee doesn’t think Salome is
ready to take over in 2010, it’s entirely possible that Kendall is
brought back at a reduced rate — don’t expect him to sign for much
more than what Craig Counsell was brought back for this year, around $1
million for 1 year.  

While seeing Kendall in the lineup would still be a depressing sight,
if you bring up Salome to serve as the back up catcher and give him
more ABs than Rivera has been able to see the past couple seasons in
that role, it could be a valuable learning experience for the young
catcher.  While Salome’s bat has been a bit disappointing this year —
he’s hitting .280/.332/.398 in Nashville a year after hitting
.360/.415/.559 in Double A Huntsville — you’d have to think he’d be
able to hit better than Rivera or Kendall in 2010, even if you have to
sacrifice some defensive ability when he’s in the lineup.

It wouldn’t be an ideal situation, but it would be better than the
current one.  It seems likely that Salome will get a big league call up
in September like he did last season — perhaps it will be a chance for
Ken Macha and Doug Melvin to see if he could handle the role of back up
catcher, especially if the Brewers are a non-factor in the wildcard
race down the stretch.

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