Options for a backup catcher

The Cardinals have stated their desire to acquire a backup catcher for their 2011 roster. In contrast to previous seasons where Jason LaRue was the backup catcher to simply because of his defensive skill and not his offensive ability, the Cardinals have said that they want someone who can handle the bat.

I’m a firm believer that the Cardinals need to have a solid backup catcher. Personally, with the wear and tear on Yadier Molina the past two seasons from playing virtually every day over the course of the season, I’m afraid that he is going to break down very soon. So we need someone who is worth of starting 30-40 games at catcher.

Put me on Team Anderson. Bryan Anderson, to be specific. The 23 year old Anderson was a 4th round pick of the Cardinals out of the 2005 draft. Anderson hit .270 with 12 HR last season in Memphis. In his 15 games on the big league roster this season, Anderson hit .281. He was the best defensive catcher in Memphis last season, handily beating Matt Pagnozzi for that honor.

While there are questions to Anderson’s ability to manage a pitching staff, it wouldn’t be his pitching staff to manage. It’d still be Yadier’s staff and with Anderson paying close attention through Spring Training and next season, he could pick up on what he needs to do to be that major league caliber catcher. I do know one thing though, he won’t get that learning experience in Memphis.

Carpenter, Wainwright, Lohse, and Westbrook are all veterans who should be able to handle a young catcher. Garcia would be the question mark, but he and Anderson have worked together at every level of the minor leagues and it shouldn’t be hard to have Molina out there for his starts either.

However, word from management has said that it is highly unlikely that Bryan Anderson will be the backup catcher in the 2011 roster, so what are the other options?

First, let’s look at the option we had. Jason LaRue hit .219 with 8 HR in 119 games over his three seasons with St. Louis. That chalks up to an average season of .219, 3 HR and 47 games. He started, on average, 28 games a season.

Gregg Zaun has been listed as a catcher that the team was pursuing for this option. The 39 year old Zaun is coming off a season where he missed a majority of the time due to shoulder surgery. While this would ensure that he would come cheap, one has to question his durability. Last season with the Brewers, Zaun hit .265 with 2 HR and 14 RBI in 28 games.

Bengie Molina has also gotten some discussion as a possible backup to his brother. The eldest Molina picked up a double playoff share last season as he began the season with the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants and finished the season with the AL Champion Texas Rangers. A rare feat to be sure. Talk from the Molina camp is that he is considering taking a season off. Last year he hit a combined .249 with 5 HR in 118 games. He would certainly be the most expensive backup option, but maybe he’d enjoy being his kid brother’s backup for a year? Bengie would be my second choice.

Josh Bard is a name that has been tossed around by fans mostly. I haven’t seen anything specifically saying that the Cardinals are in on the 32 year old catcher. Bard played last season for Seattle and posted a .214 batting average with 3 HR in 39 games. Not exactly the player that I would target if I were looking to improve offense from my backup catcher.

Gerald Laird is also being looked at. While Laird probably has the most pop, 5 HR in 89 games last season, his .207 batting average does scare me off. Laird has played in the AL all of his career and his .220 seasons far outnumber others. The 31 year old played the last two seasons with the Detroit Tigers.

Personally, I feel that the organization’s decision to overlook Anderson is one of the reasons why this organization has failed to consistently develop from within. Either we trade our solid minor leaguers or we block them with veteran talent and their star fades. Anderson has performed solidly and did well in part-time duty last year. We need to allow some of these young players to get a chance to play at the major league level to determine whether we can rely on them to be contributors to the major league club.

However, few get that chance unless they leave #10 no other option and force his hand. Like Albert Pujols did when he tore up Spring Training in 2001 or Jon Jay when he was hitting over .300. Randy Winn even got first crack at the RF job when Ryan Ludwick got hurt, despite having Jay waiting in Memphis.