Yorvit Torrealba signed with TX today for 2yrs/3.25. I was going to post something today about catcher defense ratings on available catchers and then boom, Torrealba signs. It was possible that Ronny Paulino or Russell Martin and maybe a few others might have been non-tendered by Thursday so I thought TX might wait to get a catcher deal done a bit later. Whatever the case, this is a good signing for a number of reasons.
Texas catchers had a combined OPS of .599 last year so just signing a catcher who was fringy league average at the plate is going to give you an improvement of 80 points or so. A .599 OPS is unbelievably bad (but not bad enough for Evan Grant to think that Kevin Cash is a viable backup catcher it seems). The average OPS for a catcher in the AL in 2010 (min 12 players/300ab) was .740. It is possible that if you signed 2-3 replacement level players, they would combine to hit about that much (think 3 Kevin Cashes).
Torrealba has a career OPS/WOba of 708/308 which is just fringe average at the plate. His career splits are deceiving at 765/686 L/R but in a good way. He hit LHP well early in his career but hasn't fared nearly that well the last 4 years (710; 739; 610; 698). Why is that good news? Well, he has shown dramatic improvement at the plate against RHP over the last 2 years (over about 160g) sporting an OPS of 778 and 729 (vs 695 and 669 in 07/08) while improving his walk rate to about ~9%.
I think that 2 years sample size is big enough to think that he can exceed his career OPS over the next 2 years, say 725ops/318Woba. That is close to league average and would be a huge improvement on the cavalcade of failed prospects that TX has trotted out there the last 3 years. I bid thee farewell, lineup black hole.
Having said that it is clear that TX needs to find a backup or platoon partner who does a decent job against lefties or who has relatively even (if unimpressive splits). There are a few guys out there who hit lefties well (Varitek, Paulino, Molina, Martin) or who have decent splits (Barajas). Salary and Playing time demands will likely determine who TX signs or trades for. Varitek is coming off of ankle surgery and a 4m salary. Martin will likely want to start. Barajas would likely accept a platoon role; Paulino might but someone is likely to sign him as a starter. Just for good measure, Treanor, Teagarden and Ramirez (no longer a ML catching prospect) are all abysmal vs LHP (542; 564; 469) so none of them are really good platoon partners if you want to have a platoon arrangement to run out a guy who hits lefties better than Torrealba. Given that it might take a multiyear deal for Paulino (if he is non-tendered this week, if not trade before then) Varitek might be a good get for a one year deal.
Signing Torrealba also maintains Texas' commitment to "catchability" in that he was the top-ranked FA catcher by various measures (with Barajas right behind him)and is reputed to be good at managing/calling a game. Given the team's commitment to game fundamentals over mashing, I think it was important if not necessary to sign a catcher with above average catchability. The only possible drawback of the signing is his iffy throwing arm due to an injury to his shoulder which required surgery in 2006 (?). He had abysmal CS #s last year but was fine this year. A note up at the Rangers' team site noted that his good footwork and quick release have made up for his loss of arm strength over the last couple of years and he controlled the running game well in SD last year. Time will tell on that point I guess.
Good start to the off-season for Texas.
On the bad news tip, Jorge de la Rosa signs a 3yr/~33m deal with the Rockies. I would do that deal for 2 years but not three. Other than Lee, the only way a team will acquire a decent starter this off-season is via trade.
Check out this Story on the kidnapping of Torrealba's son in VZ last year (h/t lsb).