Quizzical Tyler. // Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Flowers was likely always returning to the organization in some form in 2014. As bad as things got for him last year, just shedding cheap catching depth is not something the Sox are in a position to do.
But somewhere around Flowers basically getting his arbitration-estimated salary minus $50K, A.J. Pierzynski signing in Boston, Dioner Navarro signing with the Blue Jays, Ryan Hanigan getting traded to the Rays (seriously this has all happened in the past couple of days) and the last few desperate teams circling Jarrod Saltalamacchia like he’s some sort of wounded animal, a sinking feeling starting to set in.
"From Dan Hayes’ article:“In Tyler’s defense, there was a bit of an injury issues that may well have factored in to his performance and in Josh’s defense it was his first exposure to the big leagues, and obviously the league adjusted to him fairly quickly and he was unable to adjust back, so you’re hesitant to write either guy off and given the upside that we have seen in the past,” Hahn said. “That said, this is the big leagues and eventually you run out of opportunities. I know we believe they’re both capable of reaching their upside. As to precisely what role and how many at-bats they’re going to get in 2014 to prove us right about that upside, that’s still to be determined.”"
Read into Rick Hahn statements at your own risk, but that sounds like the discussion of two guys who have more chances coming their way, even though it contrasts a bit with what Daryl Van Schouwen reported last month:
"“Hahn and the rest of the hierarchy, including chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, have never been more humiliated by what happened on the field.”"
Because if you had to point in one direction to find the source of embarrassment for last year’s White Sox, you could do worse than identify the catching situation. Flowers’ intangibles are lauded, but they are never compared to his peers, save for A.J. Pierzynski. The categories where White Sox catching performance can actually be measured against their peers puts them in a very poor light, the worst light in their league, in fact. Their .195/.237/.323 batting line gave them a 46 wRC+, which was the worst in the American League. Despite both of them only starting for half of the season, Phegley and Flowers each individually had more passed balls than four American League teams. They were about average in stopping basestealers, at least.
It’s worth it to mention that career minor leaguer Hector Gimenez factored into these figures for a while, but his batting performance actually dragged the final line up. Also, he’s back in the fold:
It’s fair to argue that signing Jose Abreu in late-October, before the offseason started in earnest, has unfairly granted the impression that the Sox have done nothing to makeover last year’s 99-loss team. But it can also be fair to argue that bringing back the worst elements of last year’s team is a curious way to wash out the bad taste. At least they non-tendered Dylan Axelrod.
That’s purely a sentimental argument, and in striking the balance between sentiment and cold, hard logic, it’s rare that a team ignores both. If the White Sox don’t think their turnaround year is 2014–and hey, that’s not exactly a quantum leap of cynicism–it’s a fair assessment that none of the catchers available are tempting investments on their own merits.
Pierzynski, Carlos Ruiz, and the rest of the mid-30’s crowd are rather blatant stopgaps. Brian McCann was bound for a huge deal that will outlive his prime, and Saltalamacchia is a below-average defender who had fluky elements in his breakout season at the plate. If there’s no immediate cause for the White Sox to improve their catching situation, this might be a season to pass on it if Rick Hahn’s search doesn’t turn up an appealing trade option.
Provided their fans can stand the pain.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan