Twins: Catcher Conundrum



In 2010, the Minnesota Twins signed Hometown Hero Joe Mauer to a massive $23 million/year contract.  The eight year contract made the catcher the face of the franchise, guaranteeing that he will be on the roster through 2018, unless he waives his no-trade clause.

At the time the contract was inked, both Mauer and the Twins clearly anticipated that he would be the team’s catcher for the foreseeable future.  In 2011, the first year of the contract, Mauer played only 82 games, and only 52 of them were behind the dish.  Mauer was still the face of the franchise, and that was no longer a good thing.  For many fans, he was the poster child for everything that went wrong with the Twins that year.  While the 2012 Twins fared only marginally better in the standings, Mauer had a rebound year, posting a .319/.416/.446 slash line and spending a significant portion of the season contending for the AL batting title.  But, while Mauer played in 147 games, only 72 were at catcher.  As the 6’5″, 29-year-old catcher ages, it’s likely that Mauer will play fewer games behind the plate each year.

In addition to Mauer, the Twins have Ryan Doumit on hand.  In 2012, Doumit caught 59 games for the Twins.  Assuming he’ll catch about the same number of games and Mauer will catch 72 games or fewer, that leaves approximately 31 games for the third catcher that Gardy likes to have on hand.

During this offseason, one significant question the Twins need to answer is:  Who will be the third catcher on the roster?

Right now, the Twins have two more catchers on the 40-man roster:  Drew Butera and Chris Herrmann.  Butera has been with the major league club for at least part of each of the last three seasons.  While respected by many for his defense and baseball intelligence, his hitting leaves much to be desired.  His career .183 batting average is below the Mendoza line, and his 28 extra base hits in 487 at-bats is nothing for the 29-year-old to write home about.

Herrmann, the other catcher on the roster, is a 24-year-old who has just gotten his feet wet in the majors.  While his .056 average looks terrible, he’s only played in seven major league games and has recorded eighteen at-bats, hardly enough to get past the jitters that come with playing in the majors for the first time.  As a minor league player, he’s played at a total of six field positions plus spending time as the designated hitter.  His minor league average is .264, with 113 extra base hits in 1506 at-bats.

The Twins are faced with a conundrum at the catcher position:  Keep the known-and-loved-especially-by-Gardy Butera, or develop the young catcher Herrmann at the major league level.  If the third catcher plays in the ballpark of about 30 games, then this is a very realistic question.

Paula’s biased (and probably un-scientific) opinion:  I REALLY like Butera’s baseball mind.  I’ve heard sources say has more baseball intelligence than anyone in the Twins clubhouse.  However…I think that ship has sailed for the Twins.  The Twins and Butera each need to look at long-term plans.  For the Twins, who is their up-and-coming everyday catcher?  You know you have to replace Mauer, and Doumit is already thirty-one years old.  How long will he last?  For Butera, unless he is going to convert to a pitcher (and I seriously think it’s and idea at least worth considering), I think he should start signing the best deals he can sign as a backup (or, possibly, backup to the backup) catcher while developing contacts in the coaching realm.  If anything I’ve heard about Butera is close to accurate, the Twins ought to groom him for a coaching and eventual management position.  And take him off the 40-man as soon as possible.  While Herrmann has much to do to prove himself at the major league level, his versatility on the field is an additional advantage.

What’s your opinion?