Assuming Shoppach is one of two catchers on the opening day roster, the question then becomes: Who will be the second? There are several options…
- Dioner Navarro (as part of a platoon) – These are the top two catchers in the organization right now, so this may seem like the obvious choice. However, both hit right-handed pitchers about as well as James Shields hits charging batters. And with about 100 games against righties, that doesn’t seem very productive.
- Dioner Navarro (as backup) – The Rays could give Shoppach 110-120 starts and let Navi get the rest. The upside is the Rays could get lucky with Shoppach posting a strong OBP versus righties. The problem here is that Shoppach would get all the starts versus lefties, leaving Navi to only play against pitchers he doesn’t fare well against. Also, Navi is arbitration-eligible and his salary will be based on being a starter the last two seasons. $2.0-2.5 million is a lot for a backup catcher on a team with a tight budget.
- Gregg Zaun (as part of a platoon) – This may be the ideal situation for the Rays as Zaun hits righties well, is solid defensively and provides leadership. However, with several teams reportedly interested, the Rays may be out of luck if another teams is willing to give Zaun more than 50-60 starts.
- Shawn Riggans (as backup) – This may be the “if all else fails” option. Like Shoppach and Navi, Riggans hits lefties better. With Shoppach on board, Joe Maddon will want to give him his rest versus righties so Riggans is not an ideal backup.
- [Insert catcher here via trade or free agency] (as part of a platoon) – If Zaun signs elsewhere, the Rays will likely set their sights elsewhere. But who? We can speculate, but knowing the Rays it will be somebody that is not on anybody’s radar.
- John Jaso or Jose Lobaton (as part of a mini-platoon) – Let’s say Shoppach gets all 60 starts versus left-handers and half of the starts versus right-handers. That would be about 110-120 starts. That leaves 40-50 starts versus righties. Jaso and Lobaton are both on the 40-man roster. Both have big league experience. Both are cheap. And both hit righties better than lefties (Lobaton: .779 career OPS in the minors vRHP, .629 vLHP; Jaso: .847 vRHP, .760 vLHP). But is either ready to hit big league pitching and is either ready defensively? Jaso threw out only 17% of would-be base stealers in triple-A last season while Lobaton was a little better at 28% in double-A and triple-A combined.
We have to admit, the final option is the one that we are warming up to quickly. Why not trade/non-tender Navarro and let Jaso and Lobaton compete for the backup job in spring training. Best man wins. It would be Andre the Giant versus Hulk Hogan (if Andre the Giant was 6-1 and from Venezuela). The ancillary benefit is that the Rays would save ~$2.0 million that could be better spent in the bullpen, or on a quarterback for the Florida Tuskers.