Just when you thought catcher had turned the corner and become a position as renowned for its depth as its instability, last year's stinkball happened.
Matt Wieters and Yadier Molina both tore ligaments, the former in his elbow and the latter in his thumb, and Jason Castro and Wilson Ramos, who were thought to be stalwarts at the position, faded into oblivion or something just outside it. Even Salvador Perez, Brian McCann and Wilin Rosario fell short of expectations.
The result heading into 2015 is a well-defined top tier, but after that ... pandemonium!
The Elite: Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy, Devin Mesoraco, Evan Gattis
The Near-Elite: Yan Gomes, Salvador Perez
The Next-Best Things: Matt Wieters, Yadier Molina, Travis d'Arnaud, Brian McCann, Wilin Rosario
The Fallback Options: Russell Martin, Yasmani Grandal, Derek Norris
The Last Resorts: Miguel Montero, Wilson Ramos, Dioner Navarro, Mike Zunino, Kurt Suzuki, Jason Castro, Jarrod Saltalamacchia
The Leftovers: Chris Iannetta, John Jaso, Carlos Ruiz, Francisco Cervelli, Rene Rivera, Josmil Pinto, Tyler Flowers, Alex Avila, Robinson Chirinos
Yes, even with Carlos Santana and Joe Mauer losing catcher eligibility, the position still has its studs, thanks to Lucroy's reliability, Mesoraco's breakout and Gattis' expected breakout with his position change in Houston. (Enjoy the catcher eligibility while it lasts.)
After them, "exciting" isn't as much the word as "acceptable." It's a thin line between the second and third tiers, a measure of trustworthiness more than anything else. You should have a pretty good idea what Gomes and Perez will give you by now. Perez's batting average has had its highs and lows, but as much as you can count on any catcher, you can count on those two.
Wieters? Molina? Given their health issues, you can't say the same for them. Rosario makes the cut because he's probably the position's best power hitter after Gattis, but the Rockies keep making excuses not to give him regular at-bats and may wind up trading him, which wouldn't be the greatest development given his home-away splits.
Of course, any of them could be as good as Gomes and Perez, perhaps even better, if enough breaks go their way. McCann best demonstrates how thin the line between the tiers is. He clearly isn't as good as Perez, his batting average holding in the .230 range, yet he finished only about a dozen points behind him in standard Head-to-Head leagues last year. The gap between Perez and Posey, meanwhile, was about 100 points.
Maybe, then, catcher isn't a position where you should look to distinguish yourself. It's inherently risky with the beating these guys take, after all. If you happen to get one of The Elite, fine, but if not, waiting around for one of The Fallback Options isn't a terrible strategy, especially in a one-catcher league. That tier houses Nos. 12, 13 and 14 at the position, so in leagues with 12 teams or fewer, there's more than enough to go around.
Martin was actually one of the best catchers on a per-game basis last year but is deserving of skepticism because the batting average was so out of character. Still, he showed he's not necessarily confined to his tier, and Grandal and Norris are both at the right age for a breakout. They're not as trustworthy as the Molinas and McCanns of the world, but in terms of upside, they're not far off.
Where you'll really notice the lack of depth at the positon is in two-catcher leagues, where the need to roster 24 catchers (assuming a 12-team format) will force some owners to dip into The Leftovers at the position -- never a good sign.
There's always a chance Montero rebounds from a miserable second half, Zunino finally breaks out, or Ramos and Castro regain the power they showed two years ago, but you wouldn't want to stake your season on it. And beyond that, you're basically just hoping Pinto works himself into the Twins lineup or Jaso takes off as a DH. Both sound like Hail Marys to me.