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2010 in Arizona: Catcher

Having completed the review of last season, it's time to turn the spotlight forward and look at what 2010 might bring for the Arizona Diamondbacks. I'll be doing this on a position-by-position basis, each Monday, and hope to keep them updated as we move through the winter, hence the imminent presence of a handy reference list on the sidebar. I'll be taking a look at what we got out of the spot in 2009, whether we might be looking to strengthen ourselves at the spot during the winter, and coming up with our depth-chart at the position for 2010.

We start off by going behind the plate, a spot which saw a definite shift in focus last season. Chris Snyder, with a solid contract extension, was the everyday starter, and there had even been discussion of shifting backup Miguel Montero to third-base during the preceding off-season. Circumstances, however, would end up driving the team in an entirely different direction, one that will likely persist into 2010. After the jump, we'll go into more detail about who'll be catching for the Diamondbacks next year.

2009 Performance
1. Miguel Montero - 101 starts .294/.355/.478
2. Chris Snyder - 51 starts, .200/.333/.352

Randy Johnson might have been right. Back during spring training, he said of Montero, "I really like him... I think if he was to play every day, he'd probably hit 25 home runs, bat .265 to .270 and probably have 65 to 70 RBIs. He's that good of a hitter." At that time, it seemed an empty projection with Snyder cemented as our everyday starter behind the plate. However, in 2009, Montero got the chance, thanks to Snyder's back, and took full advantage. Starting less than two out of three games, he smacked 16 homers, drove in 59 runs and came within three hits of batting .300 on the season. Indeed, after becoming the #1 in late June, Montero was even better, posting a line of .318/.363/.520.

Poor Chris Snyder. If there's one thing you wouldn't wish on a catcher, it's back problems [well, that and a badly-bruised testicle, but I wouldn't wish that on anyone...]. However, he struggled with a spinal disk from May, hampering his production all year, and eventually forcing him out of the line-up on June 21st. Snyder managed only 37 PAs the rest of the season, and underwent surgery to relieve pressure on a nerve in late September. He should be fine for spring training, but appears to have lost his position as the Diamondbacks' everyday catcher.

Top Free Agents
Name Age 2009 Sal. 2009 OPS+
Bengie Molina 35 $6.25m 86
Miguel Olivo 31 $2.7m 103
Yorvit Torrealba 31 $3.75m 87
Gregg Zaun 38 $1.5m 99
Ivan Rodriguez 38 $1.5m 73
Chance of AZ free-agent activity: none at all.


2010 Depth-chart and Projections

  1. Miguel Montero (.266/.333/.435)
  2. Chris Snyder (.233/.333/.410)
  3. John Hester (.242/.285/.388)

We've already seen the team plan, with the trade discussions involving Chris Snyder between Arizona and Toronto. The problem is not so much Snyder, as Snyder's contract. The extension signed in December 2008 means that he is due to be paid $4.75 million in 2010 and $5.75 million in 2011. While not bad for an everyday starter behind the plate, it's far above what you would want to pay for a back-up at the position. The combination of that deal and his back surgery will also hamper any attempts to trade Snyder. The team don't "need" to trade him (though the salary relief would be welcome), and if nothing acceptable can be worked out, we'll likely keep Chris and he'll be a more-than acceptable second-string catcher.

It does seem another premature contract extension offered to Diamondbacks, on the basis  of a single good season - see also Chris Young, Chad Tracy and Eric Byrnes - and implies a dismissal of any possibility Montero would prove better long-term. I can see the purpose of these moves, at least for the young players: provide cost certainty and lock them in at a rate that works for the team. However, the results so far of this tactic have been mixed, to put it mildly, and one wonders whether somewhat more caution will be exercised going forward. I note there has been little public discussion of extending Mark Reynolds, who already has almost 1,700 PAs under his belt, more than Young, Tracy or Snyder when they were inked.

Montero enters 2010 anointed as the #1 for the first time in his career, with all talk of moving him to third-base completely silenced. One very encouraging thing about last season was how Miggy hit LHP and RHP with almost equal ability - his OPS against left-handers was actually 14 points better, albeit in only 88 PAs. Any scheduled days off will still likely come when we face southpaws, but it doesn't appear Montero will be an automatic out if he has to see one due to the game situation.

It'll be interesting to see how Montero's defense evolves. This was originally a major knock against him, and it was a nerve-wracking experience when he threw down to second. However, he increased his caught stealing percentage from 21% in 2008 to 26% this season, not far below the National League average (29%). He also seemed to get more comfortable with calling games, as he became more familiar with the pitching staff, and one would expect this aspect of his game to continue improving next season, with additional experience. He came in to 2009 with only 106 career starts at the major-league level - he has now almost doubled that.

Unless Snyder is traded, John Hester will likely be stashed down in Reno, inside a case stating "In case of emergency, break glass." At the present time, he won't be expected to see playing time otherwise, but didn't disgrace himself in his brief major-league stint last season, and seems like a credible enough third option, or even an occasional back-up should Snyder depart. I doubt he'd be much worse offensively than Luke Carlin, who occupied the same slot at the start of 2009.