To spend or not to spend actual money on a backup catcher?


The White Sox, by and large, are looking to avoid spending money on things they don’t absolutely have to spend money on. They want to field a good roster, but if they can’t, they would at least like to get a good deal.

Backup catchers are typically a good place to trim the fat. There’s not a lot of fat there ever, but what’s present is highly trimmable. It’s rare that any team has one that isn’t terrible offensively, the cost of having a replacement-level player there is pretty much negligible.

However, the White Sox have an unproven, strikeout-prone catcher who may or may not work out as a full-time starter. They need to strike a balance between having some insurance in case Tyler Flowers flames out, and not having a veteran that will sabotage the larger goal of giving Flowers full-time at-bats. After all, managers can get grumbly when their greenhorn backstop is hitting .190 in mid-May, and a David Ross-type is sitting on the bench.

But one of the benefits of it being a week into January is that the White Sox have sat on their hands far too long to actually acquire someone that would give Flowers trouble. David Ross and his ilk–offensively capable backup catchers; I think there are like three of them–are all but gone from free agency, and now all the Sox have to do is pick between is whether to pay the veteran minimum for an old lion, or the pre-arbitration league minimum for an in-house option.

This issue comes up because Dan Hayes–with the first White Sox post on CSNChicago in a week (and even that last one was a year-in-review piece)–relayed that Hector Gimenez is tearing up Venezuelan League pitching this Winter, to the tune of a .305/.385/.521 slash line. This is nothing to get actually excited about; since this is a league that is dominated by 39 year-old Edgardo Alfonzo, and Hector Gimenez is 30 and not about to develop suddenly into a masher.

However, as the top in-house option, but still thoroughly unproven, it’s useful for Gimenez to give some indication that he’s a shade better than completely hopeless. He’s doing that, and that’s added to a defensive reputation that was commended when he was a prospect (even though he’s not doing much catching in Venezuela). Phil Rogers commented that Gimenez might be better than Tyler Flowers when all is said and done, but it’s pretty clear that he really just said that to insult Flowers. Gimenez was also once blocked in the Astros organization by Brad Ausmus–It’s been an interesting ride for him.

Kelly Shoppach is a capable veteran backstop* floating around, whom the White Sox will probably pass on whether for concerns about his role in fragmenting the Boston clubhouse in 2012, or the fact that he specializes in crushing lefties, which are not opportunities Flowers should lose. There were some Miguel Olivo whispers earlier, which would be funny, since he’s probably the absolute worst option available.

My pick would be Yorvit Torrealba, whose performance (and thus, his price tag) in 2012 was depressed by poor batted-ball luck, and disparate playing time spread across three teams. He’s got a decent arm (29.6 % career caught-stealing rate) and .257/.316/.386 slash line over nearly 3,000 MLB appearances. That’s someone who can play once or twice a week.

But it’s also not someone who the White Sox break their screen door rushing out to get on his own merits. It comes down to purpose. Torrealba is a solution for a team that feels that competing in 2013 is too important to leave any cracks on the roster unsealed. So far, they have not acted like that’s the case. Setting the Sox up for a sustainable future has been emphasized over paying extra to maximize the 2013 rosters, and votes of confidence to unproven in-house options–like the one Gimenez has already received–have been worth their weight in gold.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan