Monday, October 19, 2015

The Twins Newest, And Oldest Backstop

In 2015, there's little denying that the catcher position was one of the largest deficiencies for the Minnesota Twins. After an All Star caliber 2014, Kurt Suzuki regressed towards his career norms. Never a good defensive catcher, his offensive production waned as well. Going forward, it's an area that Terry Ryan knows he needs to address.

Following a season in which Suzuki slashed just .240/.296/.314 and threw out an MLB worst 15% of would be base stealers, things need to change. Suzuki is with the Twins for another year (signed through 2016), but Paul Molitor can't afford to pair him with the likes of Chris Herrmann or Eric Fryer going forward. On a team looking to take the next step, the needle absolutely needs to be pushed.

So, barring a trade bringing in long term depth to help supplement the organization's catching woes, free agency is going to have to be the route. For Minnesota, the most high-profile name is no doubt Matt Wieters. The guy once billed as the next Joe Mauer (when Mauer was a Hall of Fame type of backstop) has never lived up to that status. However, he's a career .258/.320/.423 hitter having spent all seven of his big league years with the Orioles. He owns a solid 32% caught stealing rate, but does have arm concerns after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014. That all said, the Twins answer isn't Wieters.

In fact, it's probably even more of a familiar face.

Welcome back A.J. Pierzynski. The 38 year old catcher is coming off a one year, $2 million deal with the Atlanta Braves. After a dip in production since leaving Texas in 2013, Pierzynski turned in a very strong 2015 campaign. Across 113 games for the Braves, A.J. caught 107 while slashing .300/.339/.430. He added 24 doubles, nine homers, and 49 runs batted in. Striking out just 37 times in 436 plate appearances, Pierzynski's plate discipline scoffs at even Suzuki's (who's regarded as a tough hitter to strike out).

Knowing that Suzuki is not going anywhere, Pierzynski profiles as a solid platoon mate for the upcoming year. Having slashed .309/.342/.457 against right-handed pitching, it would be A.J. picking up the slack for Suzuki (who slashed .232/.284/.303 vs RHP). Pierzynski's 28% caught stealing rate would also be a welcomed addition to a Twins team that was far too easily run on the past season.

Now, there's no doubt Pierzynski has been on both sides of the fence among Twins fans. What matters though is that production is always reality, and getting contributions from the former Twin would quiet those issues. Providing a veteran presence with a high level of production is something that a young Twins roster would no doubt benefit from.

Ideally, Minnesota sees significant improvement from catchers Stuart Turner and Mitch Garver in 2016. Both are playing in the Arizona Fall League, and are regarded as some of the little depth the Twins system has. With Josmil Pinto being a major question mark after an injury riddled 2015, Minnesota buying time with a Pierzynski type makes a lot of sense.

While Wieters may be the bigger name, he's also going to command a much higher price. With uncertainties ahead, he may also not solve the Twins issues going forward. Pierzynski gives the Twins a real positive option in the immediate future, with the ability to not force a decision before the organization has to.

If there's a more realistic trade target out there that solidifies the catcher position going forward, the Twins should make it. The possibility of it coming with as little risk as bringing back A.J. Pierzynski seems far-fetched however, and calling upon an old friend is something Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan should make a plan A this offseason.

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