The good news: There are enough serviceable catchers to go around in a 12-team mixed league provided everyone takes just one.
The bad news: Some leagues require everyone to take two.
The shortage is for a myriad of reasons, but the one you're sure to notice right away is the absence of Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana. They've only ranked at the top of the position since before Charlie Sheen became a walking meme. Even longer for Mauer.
The third member of what had been an elite trio, Buster Posey, remains, and he's not entirely alone at the top. But more notable than the catchers who took a step forward in 2014 are the ones who were expected to and didn't.
Because of some late-season health issues and head-scratching playing-time limitations, Evan Gattis didn't get a chance to improve on the totals from his rookie season. Brian McCann found out that a shorter right-field fence won't help him beat the shift, Salvador Perez was in BABIP hell, and Wilin Rosario didn't show up until September.
So even though their final numbers weren't so different from last year's, they didn't live up to the sizzle. And without that sizzle, the outlook for the position is bleak.
Top 10 catchers for 2015:
1. Buster Posey, C/1B, Giants
2. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers
3. Devin Mesoraco, C, Reds
4. Matt Wieters, C, Orioles
5. Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals
6. Evan Gattis, C, Braves
7. Yan Gomes, C, Indians
8. Salvador Perez, C, Royals
9. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets
10. Brian McCann, C, Yankees
Joining Posey at the top are Lucroy and Mesoraco to give the position a new elite tier of three. Lucroy looked like he'd assume the No. 1 spot for much of the year before Posey went all 2012 in the second half, hitting .354 with 12 homers and a .978 OPS. Lucroy underwhelms at times, but he's always one of the best even if not quite a lock for No. 1.
While few would argue Mesoraco at No. 3, grouping him with the top two as one of the best of the best at the position may seem like blasphemy to some. He doesn't have the track record of Posey or even Lucroy, and at least in points leagues, the gap between them and him is like the gap between him and Carlos Ruiz. But that's in terms of total points. Remember, Mesoraco missed a three-week period early in the year with a strained hamstring, setting him back in at-bats. In terms of points per game, he was actually the second-best player at the position this season, behind only Posey.
OK, third best. Wieters averaged more before succumbing to Tommy John surgery, but that was way back in May, leaving us to guess whether or not his April, the best single month of his career, was the start of a breakthrough season. It's certainly plausible. He's only 28 and, for as good as he is, he hasn't fulfilled the potential that made him the top overall prospect in 2009, but 26 games aren't enough to tell us anything. Still, he offers enough reason for optimism, provided he's fully recovered to begin the year, to be the preferred option with the standouts already off the board.
But wait, what about Molina? He's lucky just to rank ahead of Gattis and Gomes. In fact, in Rotisserie leagues, where Molina's exceptionally low strikeout rate doesn't count for anything, I might go ahead and bump them ahead of him. They appear to be safer bets for power than he is for average at this stage of their careers. That strikeout rate, though still impressive, rose in 2014 to its highest level since his rookie season. And his struggles didn't just begin with the torn ligament in his thumb. He hit .230 with a .647 OPS in the 42 games leading up to the injury. At 32, he may well be on the decline.
Ranking Gattis ahead of Gomes isn't meant as a slight on Gomes but an affirmation of what Gattis could be if either the Braves realize he's too important to their lineup to sit every third game or some AL team acquires him to play DH, where his (perhaps overblown) defensive limitations won't interfere with his playing time. A player who hits 30 home runs is hugely valuable at any position these days, but especially catcher. Considering Gattis topped 20 in less than 400 at-bats in each of his first two seasons, he's a good bet for that many with 500-plus.
d'Arnaud, whose name has the distinction of going against everything you were taught in first grade (phonics, punctuation, capitalization -- it's all out the window) may strike some as out of place, especially after McCann rebounded from a slow start to finish with more or less his usual numbers, but that's precisely why I rank d'Arnaud ahead. Seven straight seasons with 20-plus home runs certainly make McCann a safe Fantasy option, but ever since infield shifts became all the rage a few years ago, his batting average has leveled off in the .240 range. It's actually .238 over the last three seasons. McCann may hit 20 home runs, but they're a hollow 20 home runs, preventing him from distinguishing himself as more than just another fine option at the position.
At 26 next year, d'Arnaud still has the potential to do that. After sleepwalking through his first four months in the majors, a midseason demotion seemed to straighten him out. He returned in June to hit .272 with 10 home runs and an .805 OPS in 257 at-bats, making him the sixth-best catcher in Head-to-Head points leagues during that stretch. And unlike McCann, we still don't know what "the usual" is for him.
Next 10 catchers for 2015:
11. Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies
12. Russell Martin, C, Pirates
13. Wilson Ramos, C, Nationals
14. Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks
15. Dioner Navarro, C, Blue Jays
16. Derek Norris, C, Athletics
17. Yasmani Grandal, C/1B, Padres
18. Mike Zunino, C, Mariners
19. Kurt Suzuki, C, Twins
20. Jason Castro, C, Astros
So I wasn't entirely forthright at the beginning. Depending how you view both Martin and Ramos, the number of starting-caliber catchers is between 11 and 13. It makes a big difference in leagues that require only one catcher because whenever there are more starting-caliber catchers than catcher spots to fill in a league, you can pretty much wait until the last round to draft yours, knowing no one will draft a backup at such a low-scoring position. Having that kind of security greatly improves your flexibility on Draft Day.
Considering most one-catcher leagues are of the Head-to-Head points variety (while Rotisserie formats, at least on CBSSports.com, typically go the two-catcher route), I think it's safe to say we have at least 12. That's Martin's better format thanks to an always impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio. This year, he finally put together a batting average more befitting of it, giving him the second-highest OPS (.832) of his career. His highest came in 2007, his sophomore season, but really, his first three years went like that, so this performance didn't come entirely out of nowhere. Of course, all those years in between are rightful cause for skepticism, but it's not like one prolonged hot streak warped Martin's numbers. He hit .270 or better in five of the season's six months.
Ramos, on the other hand, isn't at all helped by the typical one-catcher format. He's like a poor man's McCann: The home runs are great on their own, but he doesn't provide anything more offensively -- no walks, no doubles, no help in batting average. It makes for relatively low point production in Head-to-Head leagues, and on top of that, he still has yet to do it for a full season, limited to fewer than 100 games in each of the last three. I'm thinking that's enough to keep him off the starting-caliber catchers list outside of maybe Rotisserie leagues, where you'll likely be drafting two catchers anyway.
If all you want is a little pop, Montero, who hit .262 with 11 homers and a .760 OPS in the first half, and Navarro, who hit .295 with seven homers and a .789 OPS in the second, are able to provide that. Their inconsistencies set them back a bit, but they're certainly competent Fantasy options should you have to fall back on them. Ramos' durability concerns put him closer to those two than the 12 ahead of him. Some might include Suzuki in that tier if power isn't the specific need, but the way he finished the year, batting .248 with a .656 over the final two months, is more like what you can expect from him going forward, given his track record. Plus, I still like Josmil Pinto as a sleeper.
Frankly, if I have to go that deep at the position, I'm shooting for upside. Norris, Grandal and Zunino have already demonstrated the pop Suzuki lacks and have the capacity for more as they enter their prime years. Norris and Grandal both turn 26 before the start of the new season, and Zunino turns 24. All three have contact issues -- with Norris having made the most strides in that area, performing like an All-Star in the first half before hitting .245 with a .638 OPS in the second -- but all three were once top prospects. And as we saw from d'Arnaud this season, a player with that type of pedigree can turn on a dime.
Castro rounds out the top 20 if only because of a lack of alternatives. I don't know about you, but I can't make a halfway compelling case to draft Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Alex Avila, Chris Iannetta or Tyler Flowers. Please don't take Castro's inclusion as any sort of endorsement of him. As much as I liked him coming into 2014, I'm willing to admit now his BABIP was too good to be true during his breakout 2013 season, and he hit only .276 even then.
Let's circle back to Rosario for a minute because I have a feeling leaving him out of the top 10 is inviting controversy. After all, I just extolled the virtues of a 30-homer catcher with Gattis, and Rosario was only two homers shy of that in 2012. But his slugging percentage has dropped about 50 points each of the last two seasons, and he needed a ridiculous September just to get it up that high this year. Plus, his playing-time concerns are even more apparent than Gattis'. A known defensive liability, Rosario has yet to play more than 121 games in a season. It doesn't mean he can't hit 30 homers in 2015, but the questions outnumber the answers with him.
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