|Mike Napoli headlines this winter's class of free-agent catchers. (Getty Images)|
As is the case with most positions this offseason, the current crop of catcher free agents has some interesting names at the top, but then things drop off in a hurry. There's some good stuff here for teams squarely in contending mode, but mostly the list to come is peopled with backups whom one is wont to describe as "solid" or "potentially useful" or "participatory."
Nonetheless, here are the top 10 free-agent catchers for the offseason that is now upon us …
1. Mike Napoli | 2012 team: Rangers
2012 stats: .227/.343/.469, 24 HR, 56 RBI, 53 R, 56 BB
While Napoli probably over-performed in 2011, he probably under-performed this past season. Lucky for him, though, the sensible middle still makes him a valuable commodity. Napoli can man catcher while providing 25-homer power, and that will mean a very healthy demand for his services.
2. A.J. Pierzynski | 2012 team: White Sox
2012 stats: .278/.326/.501, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 68 R
Pierzynski has been an underrated defensive backstop for years, and last season he popped a career-best 27 homers. Caveats? It's unlikely that Pierzynski, at age 35, established a new power baseline, and he's also got some mileage on him (he has logged more than 13,000 innings behind the plate). Still, he'd be a solid near-term addition for a contender in need.
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3. Russell Martin | 2012 team: Yankees
2012 stats: .211/.311/.403, 21 HR, 53 RBI, 50 R, 6 SB
Martin is widely regarded as a standout handler of pitchers, and he's solid with the bat. After all, he's coming off a season in which he tallied 21 homers and drew 53 walks in 485 plate appearances. The power and willingness to take a walk make up for the low batting average. At age 29, Martin is the youngest notable catcher on the market.
4. David Ross | 2012 team: Braves
2012 stats: .256/.321/.449, 9 HR, 23 RBI, 18 R, .818 OPS vs. RHPs
At age 35 and having never played more than 112 games in a season, Ross probably isn't going to pass muster as an everyday catcher. However, as backups go, he's one of the best. Ross boasts excellent secondary hitting skills, and let's not forget that he once collected 38 homers across two seasons. Ross also hosed 44 percent of opposing base-stealers in 2012.
5. Kelly Shoppach | 2012 teams: Red Sox, Mets
2012 stats: .233/.309/.425, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 23 R
Shoppach didn't hit after his late-season trade to the Mets, but the 32-year-old career backup has a lifetime OPS of .732. That's just fine for a player who mans the most demanding position on the diamond.
6. Jose Molina | 2012 team: Rays
2012 stats: .223/.286/.355, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 27 R
The Rays will almost certainly exercise their $1.8-million option on Molina because he's one of the top all-around defensive catchers on the market. No, he can't hit. But he can frame pitches, block balls in the dirt and throw out runners. Molina's catch-and-throw skills make him a, well, catch.
7. Miguel Olivo | 2012 team: Mariners
2012 stats: .222/.239/.381, 12 HR, 29 RBI, 27 R
As catchers go, Olivo's got some pop (141 career homers, at least 12 bombs in each of the last seven seasons), and he has handled a regular's workload in the past. The numbers have been trending downward over the last two seasons, but a rebound isn't out of the question. If nothing else, he has an established ability to run into a fastball on occasion. As well, research by Max Marchi of Baseball Prospectus points to Olivo as a highly effective handler of pitchers. The M's passed on their $3-million option on Olivo for 2013.
8. Gerald Laird | 2012 team: Tigers
2012 stats: .282/.337/.374, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 24 R
Laird is coming off one of his better offensive seasons, and he has been a decent enough hitter against lefties throughout his career. He's also one of the best bunters among those who don the tools of ignorance. He's a backup, but he has his uses.
9. Yorvit Torrealba | 2012 teams: Rangers, Blue Jays, Brewers
2012 stats: .227/.293/.330, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 19 R
The 34-year-old is a capable defender. At the plate, he can hold his own against same- and opposite-side pitching ("hold his own" by catcher standards, that is). Torrealba is no one's idea of an everyday solution, but he remains a serviceable reserve.
10. Brian Schneider | 2012 team: Phillies
2012 stats: .225/.289/.348, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 9 R