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The Hot Stove Corner, part 1: Catcher

Player    AVG  AB  R   H HR RBI BB   K  OBP  SLG  OPS 
Snyder   .201 324 23  65  5  26 40  87 .296 .290 .586 
Stinnett .260 123 14  32  6  12 12  29 .331 .439 .770 
Hill     .224  76  6  17  0   6 10  26 .307 .289 .596 
Totals:  .218 523 43 114 11  44 62 142 .306 .325 .631 
NL Rank:   16  -- 16  16 10  16  3   1   14   15   14

2005 Review
In 2004, injuries led to a procession of candidates behind the plate. In 2005, health was not the issue: inability to hit, was. If Snyder + Hill were a single player, they'd have had 113 K's in just 400 AB's - only Willy Mo Pena and Jayson Werth had more strikeouts in fewer at-bats. Initially, the plan was to pair Stinnett with whichever catcher made the best impression in spring training. But after Hill and Snyder both appeared to do amazingly well handling the bat (.300 + .355 respectively), it was decided to let Stinnett go, and give youth its head. I think its safe to say, we won't be making that mistake again.

Though Hill was the Opening Day starter, Snyder soon took over, thanks largely to a four-hit game against the Dodgers on April 9. At first, the occasional appearance like that kept the season afloat, and May 15 saw Snyder's average at a credible .256. But that was the last time he saw .250, and it was all downhill from there; by the All-Star Break, he was at .230, and plummeted into the abyss, hitting only .154 after the break, and ending the year at .201 overall. With runners in scoring position, he was an awful .175.

Hill, meanwhile, also shuffled round the Mendoza line for the first two months, before management decided they'd had enough. Stinnett, after his release, had tried his luck with the Mets, but an injury ended his hopes there, and he was free to answer the call. After a stint in Tucson, he replaced Hill at the end of May, and performed credibly enough in a backup role the rest of the season.

While the performances with the bat left much to be desired, behind the plate things were a lot better. Snyder's defense was usually pretty good, with his blocking occasionally of Gold Glove-caliber. He made two errors all year (a figure beaten by only three catchers), and while he threw out just 27% of base-stealers, not that many tried to run on him - he allowed only 46 stolen bases, good enough for 6th least in the majors. That's credible, especially working with the likes of Brandon Webb, notoriously slow to the plate. His catcher's ERA, at 4.54, was also significantly below the team average of 5.13.

2006 Possibilities

The three biggest names on the free agent list are probably Ramon Hernandez, Bengie Molina and Mike Piazza - Brad Ausmus is a fringe contender. The first two will likely require long-term deals, which the D'backs won't want to commit to; I don't think they're quite ready to give up on Hill + Snyder yet. Piazza for one year is possible, though he may want to stay on the East coast.

As usual, there's a raft of low-rent, Stinnett-like candidates, any of whom might be worth a punt if cheap enough: Sandy Alomar Jr. (batted .273 in 46 games), Todd Pratt (.251/60), Chris Widger (.241/45) - you know the sort. Right at the bottom end are Benito Santiago and Charles Johnson, who barely played last year, and would probably work for food now. One possibility might be Todd Greene (.254/38); the Rockies declined his $800K option, and look set to go with Danny Ardoin.

One trade that has been mooted is swapping Javier Vazquez for Paul LoDuca; this would get Javy over to the East coast, as he supposedly wants, and fill our offensive catching chasm. However, while we did chase him when he was with the Dodgers, there's a whole new management team in play now. Personally, LoDuca (.283/132) doesn't appeal much, and seems pricy at $6.25m for next year, given Stinnett had as many homers and a better OPS.

If Vazquez demands his trade, and wants to go towards the Atlantic side of the country, maybe Mike Lieberthal (.263/118) from the Phillies? Only if they were prepared to eat some of his $7.5m salary. And while we're engaging in wild speculation, I wouldn't mind prising Javier Valentin (.281/76) or Jason LaRue (.260/110) away from Cincinnati; whichever they don't want. They could certainly use Vazquez: only one member of their rotation all season (Randy Kleiser, who started four games) ended with a winning record, and they had the worst ERA in the NL. Yes, even worse than us...

The Detroit News recently reported that the Tigers, "might also consider trading for Arizona right-hander Javier Vazquez, who wants a change of venue, and whose contract ($24 million through 2007) would be something of a wash if Pudge Rodriguez were part of the deal." It's about the first time recently I've heard Vazquez reported as wanting to move, and Detroit doesn't seem like a likely location for him, though I've yet to check the mileage charts to Puerto Rico.

The irony is, that perhaps the best catching prospect in franchise history never pulled on a Diamondbacks uniform: Dioner Navarro arrived from New York in the Johnson trade, but departed immediately for the Dodgers, in the Green deal. There, he's seen as posting better than LoDuca-like numbers, at a fraction of the cost. And we can't claim this is a surprise, since in 2003, he was listed by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Yankees organization.

Instead, with Snyder and Hill both young (24 + 26 respectively), it seems unlikely we'll see any further candidates from the farm system in 2006. In the event of, say, something falling off a church and skewering both of them in a mysterious, Omen-like accident, we might see Juan Brito return to the majors. Despite bypassing Triple-A, he was actually the closest thing we had to a regular catcher in 2004, but with a line of .205/.246/.298, didn't prove himself offensively. 2005 was spent down in Tucson, but hitting .260 there is hardly threatening to replace the existing incumbents, though he'd probably not be much worse at the plate than Snyder.

Also down in Tucson was super-utility guy Corey Myers, this year's version of Robby Hammock - which means we can probably expect a nasty injury to befall him sometime in 2006. He only hit .238 for the Sidewinders, so is probably a long shot. Speaking of Hammock, he was another man whose career went backward last season, maybe he'll bounce back in 2006. The good news is, he hit .364 for Tucson. The bad news? That was 4-for-11 in three games.

Finally - though we're probably not talking 2006 - there's Miguel Montero, though the jury may be out on whether he's a hitter who can catch, or a catcher who can hit. He destroyed Cal League pitching to the tune of .349 and 24 homers before the All-Star Break; I admit, that's like kicking a sleeping puppy, and in Double-A he did much less well (.250 with 2 HR in 30 games). A busy off-season is in prospect for him, between a brief stint in the AFL, and also playing at home in Venezuela.

This is definitely an area in which we're likely to make a move, be it large or small. I'd be happiest to see a cheap veteran brought on board, to give Snyder another year of growth. The thin free-agent market will likely drive up prices, and there's no obvious candidates worth shelling out the big bucks, so if we bring in a star, it'll probably be as a trade. This is to some extent out of our hands, as Vazquez has the option to demand to be be dealt: however, I think he'll still be here, and we will go with a cheap free-agent like Alomar Jr. or Pratt.