The Los Angeles Dodgers have been rumored to be looking for starting pitching, relief pitching and a way to relieve their outfield logjam this July.
One position that hasn’t been talked about is the one that the Dodgers are struggling with the most: catcher. Yes, A.J. Ellis is the everyday catcher. Yes, he was never known to provide much offense. Yes, he is Clayton Kershaw’s best friend. No, that does not mean that he should get a pass for his worst season since taking over the starting position.
Currently, Ellis is hitting .199 with zero home runs, seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs. While his on-base percentage is still a decent .343 for the year, the 33-year-old is in a 4-for-34 slump since July 12.
Some may argue that Ellis is a defensive catcher and any offense he provides is a benefit. That could ring true; however, this year has also been Ellis’ worst behind the plate. He has thrown out just five of 32 potential base stealers for a 16% caught stealing rate. Last season, Ellis threw out 44% of runners. This year, the seven year veteran is at negative-six in defensive runs saved, opposed to being worth 10 runs last year. Ellis has not been credited with any passed ball, but has been part of 16 wild pitches. Some of those wild pitches have been balls that could have easily been saved with a stronger effort. Ellis could continue on as a part-time catcher and full-time battery partner of Kershaw.
Behind Ellis, the Dodgers have another defensive-minded catcher in Drew Butera. In 41 games, the former Minnesota Twin is hitting just .202 with a pair of home runs. He has been slightly better on the defensive side, being worth 15 runs thus far and has thrown out 31% of runners. While Butera has been slightly better in those regards, he also has eight passed balls on the year. Also, Butera has always been a backup in his career and is not what the Dodgers need to take that extra step to be a World Series favorite.
So what can the Dodgers do?
Well, there’s a few options available but the Dodgers don’t seem motivated to make a deal. Most teams would look to the farm and take a chance on a top prospect. The problem with that is that the Dodgers do not have any prospects ready to play in the majors besides Tim Federowicz, who has struggled to hit in the big leagues. They already missed out on picking up an offensive-minded catcher in A.J. Pierzynski after he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals last week.
The best catcher that is available for trade is the Twins’ Kurt Suzuki. He is enjoying a career year, hitting .309 with a pair of home runs and 41 RBIs, while providing stable defense. With the Twins out of the playoff picture, they could be willing to part with the 30-year-old. A move would likely cost the Dodgers a second-tier prospect, preferably a pitcher with how the Twins usually do business.
For a more defensive approach behind the plate, the Dodgers could take a look at the Tampa Bay Rays’ Jose Molina or the San Diego Padres’ Rene Rivera. Molina would not bring much, if anything, at the plate, but is a solid, veteran catcher that knows how to win. He would come in and become the best defensive catcher in the group.
Rivera provides an interesting case, as he is regarded as one of the better pitch-framers in the league and has provided some pop at the plate with eight home runs on the year. The Padres may not want to deal within the division, but the Dodgers could inquire at least.
A younger, more offensive option that could potentially be available is Jason Castro of the Houston Astros. The 27-year-old has consecutive seasons of double-digit home runs and has actually been worth nine defensive runs saved this year. It may cost the Dodgers a little more for Castro, but it would give them a catcher for the immediate future.
Another catcher that can do damage on offense is notorious “Dodger Killer” Carlo Ruiz of the Philadelphia Phillies. With the Phillies out of the race again, they could decide to get rid of any players with value and go into rebuilding mode. Ruiz is hitting .272 on the season and is no slouch behind the plate. He has thrown out 28% of runners this season.
One more catcher that could be available is the New York Yankees’ Francisco Cervelli. He has missed some time this season and is hitting .310 in 24 games. If the Yankees decide to become sellers, Cervelli could become a commodity.
It appears the Dodgers will charge on with Ellis and Butera for the rest of the season, but any of the options mentioned would provide an upgrade.
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