WTNYOctober 23, 2003
Free Agent Preview: Catchers
By Bryan Smith

I probably won't do all these at once, but it was something interesting to write about. At some point I'll preview each position, so you have the low-down on free agents, with another day of predictions.

One quick note: Jose Cruz Jr.'s option was declined by the Giants yesterday. Let me reiterate that Cruz's actions in the NLDS had a large part in this happening. He was very good for the G-Men in the first half, but literally fell apart. The team may go with prospects Todd Linden and Tony Torcato next season, or re-sign Jeffrey Hammonds.

World Series note: Ya think Carl Pavano's free agency stock is bullish? HELL YA!

2003-2004 Top 10 Free Agent Catchers
1. Pudge Rodriguez
2003- Pudge had a breakout season in 2003, putting himself into the top echelon of catchers once again. Runners still don't steal against him, and he still has that vicious throw to first. Questions of his bad handling of a pitching staff were answered. He's a little old, as well as a little fragile. But he's a doubles power hitter that is very clutch and can bat anywhere in the lineup. Irreplaceable.
Suitors- The Marlins are the favorite to sign Pudge, as he truly loved playing in his hometown. New York (Mets) say they are interested, which would indicate Piazza may start playing first base everyday. And if Pudge were to really hit the free agent market, he would get phone calls from Baltimore, the Cubs, and San Diego.

#2- Javy Lopez
2003- Javy had a fantastic 2003, setting the record for home runs hit by a catcher. But he hasn't strung two good years together in a long time, and he's one of the most fragile catchers on the list. Catchers are supposed to fall apart at his age, and a extreme drop in power could be foreseen.
Suitors- Unknown. The Braves will try to re-sign him at their price, but if he doesn't they'll use Johnny Estrada. The same group of teams, the Orioles, Cubs, Padres will call.

#3- Benito Santiago
2003- Didn't have quite the season he did in 2002, but is still remarkably resistant to old age. Remember, he'll be 38 next season, and probably will be catching another three years. He's a great leader, and will help with the bat a little bit. His success story won't hurt in bargaining either. This guy is made to go to a winner, so expect a contender to call his number.
Suitors- This could very well be the Cubs' top choice at catcher. Dusty loved him in San Francisco, and he could split time with Damian Miller well. His age and experience would be good for a still relatively young pitching staff.

#4- Greg Myers
2003- Myers is another old catcher whom is resilient, as Myers had one of the leagues' best first halfs this season. He proved he's still capable of being in a platoon role, and could very well be in that kind of situation in 2003.
Suitors- In the fourth spot, we're already into backups. Myers will either go to a bad team where he'll platoon for the starting spot, or a good team where he won't play that much. The Rangers seem like a good fit, as do the Cubs. I've also heard the Tigers mentioned with his name, although that doesn't make too much sense.

#5- Brad Ausmus
2003- While his production increased in the second half, Ausmus isn't one-fourth the offensive player he once was, which wasn't a lot in the first place. He is good behind the plate, a great leader, and gets huge press from how well he handles the pitching staff.
Suitors- The Astros want him back, to tutor their prospect John Buck, as well as to tutor their young pitchers like Wade Miller and co. The Padres are the only other team I've heard linked to his name. But write this down: Ausmus is an Astro in 2004.

#6- Brent Mayne
2003- Mayne started the heavier platoon half for the Royals this season, and held the job the whole year. He didn't embarass himself, but didn't drastically change his fate for 2004. He's a poor man's Greg Myers, and interest in him will show that.
Suitors- The Royals have already turned him down, so he could go anywhere. Landing on a team like the Giants, whom are going to play Yorvit Torrealba a lot would be a good idea.

#7- Todd Pratt
2003- With good catchers in his way (Piazza, Lieberthal), Pratt never gets too many at-bats. But he always produces. Todd is one of the best backup catchers in the league, as he doesn't disgrace himself behind the plate, and hits with power. I could easily argue him into the five spot, as long as he gets less than 200AB.
Suitors- Who knows. Pratt should find a team where he'll get his 150AB and 10HR. The Red Sox actually make a good fit, yet they seem enfatuated with Doug Mirabelli. I heard the Mets as a rumor, and the Dodgers would make sense.

#8- Sandy Alomar Jr.
2003- He's still a leader, although it's foolish to believe he can handle 50G behind the dish. Putting him on a young pitching staff with 100-150AB is the best way to use him, and he'll surprise you every once in awhile.
Suitors- The White Sox will re-sign him, or he'll start thinking about retirement. Sandy is probably going to coach one day, so it's not bad idea to keep him as a "player-coach" for one season. Miguel Olivo is ready for 400AB, so the ChiSox really do seem like a perfect fit.