This morning, it was learned that projected Astros starting catcher Jason Castro is likely to miss most if not all of the 2011 season as doctors discovered a tear in his ACL. This leaves the Astros in a precarious situation as they only have two catchers left on their 40 man roster: J.R. Towles and Humberto Quintero. Quintero is the quintessential defensive specialist type that has spent most of his career in a reserve role and has just 865 career plate appearances in parts of the past eight seasons. Towles is a former prospect that showed offensive potential in the minor leagues but has been horrific at the major league level hitting just .189/.273/.327 in his first 319 plate appearances as he rarely walks and mostly strikes out. Their non-roster invitees in camp include names like Carlos Corporan, Brian Esposito, and Rene Garcia who collectively have just four more games played at the major league level as I do.
The Rays are in the exact opposite situation as they have five different catchers on the 40 man roster: John Jaso, Kelly Shoppach, Robinson Chirinos, Jose Lobaton, and Nevin Ashley. The last three are all the same age and it is expected that Lobaton and Ashley will be the catching duo for the Durham Bulls this season since both have already proved their worth at the AA level. That creates a logjam because it is also expected that Chirinos is going to AAA because he has but 62 career plate appearances at that level in his career. There is also the Shoppach situation.
Shoppach is being paid $3M in 2011, which is the highest salary of any back-up catcher in the majors in 2011. Shoppach carries a stigma in this market due to his issues in the 2010 ALDS and his struggles last year after returning from an early injury, but as R.J. Anderson pointed out a few weeks ago, he is not as bad as people believe he is. If he stays with the club, there is a very good chance he is better than what fans saw last year and provides the thump against left-handed pitching and the veteran leadership the club envisioned him doing when they traded Mitch Talbot to acquire him last off-season.
Given the Astros situation, it would not surprise me if Andrew Friedman called Ed Wade because the Rays are in a position of strength right now and a good negotiator relishes these types of situations. When examining Cot’s free agent catcher list, there are only three names on it: Paul Bako, Chris Coste, and Bengie Molina. Coste is recovering from Tommy John surgery, Bako did not play in the league last year, and Molina is retired. The Rays could offer Ashley or Lobaton to the Astros to free up the potential logjam at Durham this year, or see if the Astros want to bring home the Texan in Shoppach. The Rays and Astros have only made two trades with each other since Friedman assumed the GM role but both trades were with former Astros GM Tim Purpura not Ed Wade. The first one was when Aubrey Huff was shipped to Houston in 2006 for Ben Zobrist and Mitch Talbot and the second deal was when Ty Wigginton was sent to the Astros the following season for Dan Wheeler.
The Astros could use what Shoppach brings to the table and it could appeal to Shoppach given he went to high school and college in the state and still maintains his home in Texas. The Rays would benefit from the move by taking Shoppach’s salary off the books which could be reallocated into contract extensions for some of the pre-arbitration players as they have done in the past or allocated into the ever-important 2011 draft class which Friedman calls, “among the most important days in the history of this franchise.” Lastly, it would give the Rays a chance to see what they have in Chirinos – a player that BaseballProspectus’ infamous PECOTA system says compares favorably to current major league catchers Chris Iannetta and Carlos Ruiz.