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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

ON THE RECEIVING END
After discussing the 1B/CF/DH situation at exhaustive length, I now turn to other main pressing question the Angels face about position players this off-season: whether or not to re-sign Bengie Molina.

The basic dilemma is as follows:

1. Bengie has been a good player.

2. Jeff Mathis, his successor, may be one year away, having hit 276/340/499 at AAA at the age of 22. Those numbers are okay, especially as Mathis is young for his league, but hardly world-beating, and don't really indicate that he's ready for the majors right now.

3. However, Bengie will likely require a long-term deal, at least three or four years, and Mathis is highly likely to be ready somewhere in the middle of that.

4. Also, catchers over 30 are usually bad bets for long-term contracts, and Bengie turned 31 this past July.

There are also these things to consider:
Year   G    OPS+   CS%   PB/9 Innings
2002 122 60 .449 .044
2003 119 100 .444 .038
2004 97 86 .261 .071
2005 119 110 .313 .103
So though he peaked in offense in 2005 (which may drive up his price, though that performance will be difficult for him to repeat), Bengie's defense has been deteriorating. With his age, size, and injury history, there's no real reason to expect that trend to discontinue. He is no longer as spry on his feet as he once was, which was led to poor throws and more passed balls. Do you think Bengie's going to lose weight and become quicker as he continues to get older?

If we could sign Bengie to a one-year deal with a team option for the second year, of course that would be wonderful. But that of course is not going to happen.

I just can't envision a realistic scenario wherein it makes sense to re-sign Bengie. He has a lot of attractive qualities; he hits for a decent average, he has some pop, and works very well with pitchers. He should be able to turn a pretty penny. But with all signs indicating Mathis will be ready in a year or so, does it behoove the Lads to be the payors of those pennies?

If we were to let Bengie go, it would fall upon Jose Molina and Jeff Mathis to pick up the slack. This would almost certainly lead to diminished offense from the position, though the defense would likely improve a little bit, as Jose is his brother's better in that arena.

The Angels would also have to be aware of the fact that Mathis, the last two seasons, has started off hot and then slumped as the season progresses. Perhaps more days off would do him good.

What about external options? Any free agents or veteran catchers we might be able to grab for a year as Mathis Insurance?

It's interesting that bring that up ... in the comments section of the 1B/CF/DH post I link to above, two estimable gentlemen endorse the Angels pursuing Blue Jay center fielder Vernon Wells. There is, in fact, much that is appealing about Wells. He's fairly young, turning 27 in December. He's a solid hitter, having posted an OPS+ of 108 in his career (though his 2003 campaign, in which a .317 batting average drove his numbers sky-high, appears to have been a bit of a fluke). He plays good defense, having ranked in the top four in AL center fielders in zone rating each of the last three years. He's fairly cheap, due $4.3M next year and $5.6M in 2007.

Would he be available? Perhaps, as pointed out by Matt Welch in that comment section, the Jays could move young prospect Alexis Rios to center, and the Angels can package prospects like no one else. I don't actually know that the Jays are looking to move him, but, hey, it's the offseason, and the Hot Stove League is all about speculation. It's fun.

So in that spirit, I'll just throw something else out there.

The Blue Jays have another player who fits in to the catcher conversation: Gregg Zaun.

Say what?

Well, Gregg Zaun is 34 years old. But he's signed through 2006, and is only due to make $1M. He's a solid hitter for a catcher, having put up an OPS+ of 94 in each of the last two seasons, powered by an excellent walk rate (he walked more often than he struck out last year, as a matter of fact). Also, he's a switch hitter with a pretty negligible platoon split, and his career line against right-handed pitchers (248/341/379) is better than Jose Molina's (215/257/284 [yikes!]).

His defense is a mixed bag; he's only thrown out 25% of basestealers the last two years, but he's only allowed .038 passed balls per nine innings in that period, which is pretty good.

The Jays' young catcher, Guillermo Quiroz, ain't much of a hitter, so they might actually be inclined to hang on to Zaun, I don't know. But as a one-year bridge to Mathis become the full-time starter, he seems to me like a good fit.

What could we give up? I think the Angel farm system untouchables are Wood, Kendrick, Weaver, Mathis, possibly Shell, plus some really young guys like Nick Adenhart and Gustavo Espinoza. Guys I'm okay with moving include Aybar and Callaspo, Sean Rodriguez, Nick Gorneault, Joe Saunders, Chris Bootcheck, and Mike Napoli.

Could some combination of those guys fetch Vernon Wells? Could some combination of those guys fetch Wells and Zaun (perhaps we would have to throw Jose Molina in for that to happen, and the defensive difference there may or may not be enough to make the deal worthwhile, depending on the size and scope of the veteran's role)? I don't know. But if I'm Bill Stoneman, it's worth a phone call.

Assuming we can't get Bengie to sign a one-year deal, that is.

Comments:
Nice!

And remember this about Wells -- though he might have had an outlier of a 2003, players tend to peak at 27 far more often than 24....
 
If we were to let Bengie go, it would fall upon Jose Molina and Jeff Mathis to pick up the slack. This would almost certainly lead to diminished offense from the position,

Even if they re-sign Bengie, it will lead to a drop-off in offense. No way he hits like he did last year again.
 
It also bears remembering that Mathis has played in the thermal hell called the Texas League. In Anaheim's much more friendly clime, he should be able to go deeper into the season.
 
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