Unsurprisingly, Chip Hale said starting catcher job is pretty much between Tuffy Gosewisch and Gerald Laird at this point.— Zach Buchanan (@azc_zachb) March 20, 2015
After all the talking up of Peter O'Brien over the winter, that actually did come as something of a surprise to me, even though I'd written about O'Brien's spring struggles, just the other day. So I thought I'd confirm the situation.
@AZSnakepit I don't think they ever figured he'd compete for the job out of the gate— Zach Buchanan (@azc_zachb) March 20, 2015
In January, Dave Stewart seemed to indicate otherwise: "I talked with my people and my coaching staff. They believe that O'Brien is going to be around sooner than later. If that does happen, there's no need to go out and get another guy... We're going to be patient and allow the progression of O'Brien to take place and stand pat on that." Even after the loss of Oscar Hernandez, Stewart repeated this. "We’re not going to trade for a catcher. Some people think we are. We’re not," he stated. So let's just say, I certainly got the strong impression O'Brien was being penciled in for a job, even if his growing pains extended into the regular season.
Now, Stewart seems to have changed his tune, saying, "We think we're going to hit enough where if we've got a guy in that position that can handle our staff and lead our staff to wins, then we're OK if the catcher doesn't hit." Certainly, a full season of Gosewisch and/or Laird may set new records for offensive futility, given over the past two years, they have OPSs of .512 and .625 respectively. As a point of comparison, 2005 represents our low-water mark for production from the position, when the D-backs catchers' combined to hit .218/.306/.325, a .631 OPS. One wonders whether that record will still stand In seven months time.
Tyler Nickel made a counter-point,: "Don't you think it's kind of ridiculous to play Laird over O'Brien given the realistic expectations for this team?" There are a couple of possible reasons for that: one is the old service clock issue. Odds are, O'Brien's age 30 season will be more valuable than his age 24 one: you can argue that sacrificing the latter - especially for a campaign in which we're unlikely to compete - is counter-productive. Also, if reports of multiple errant throws are true, it may be that the gap between O'Brien and major-league ready is not something a month in the big leagues will fix. Doing so out of the glare of the spotlight could be the best solution.
I'm fine with this - and have been saying so for a while. 24 is young to be a regular catcher in the majors: at the spot last season, only the Royals' Salvador Perez and Seattle's Mike Zunino were that age and had 300+ PA. Neither of them put up even a .700 OPS. So, if it takes another season for O'Brien's glove to catch up with his bat, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially since it's not as if his absence seems likely to cost the Diamondbacks a playoff spot this year.