The Reds have carried three catchers on the roster for most of the season to the surprise of many. The Reds were seemingly in great shape at catcher entering the season with Jason LaRue as a just above average solid starter and Javy Valentin, who put up a surprisingly strong offensive season last year, on hand to give LaRue plenty of breathers while batting from the left side of the plate. Wayne Krivsky then obtained David Ross from the Padres just before the season started. What seemed a minor move at the time, turned into a rather fortuitous move as LaRue went on the DL at the beginning of the season with a minor knee scope, and Ross got an opportunity that he soon took advantage of, so much so, that the Reds decided to keep all three catchers on the roster since LaRues return from the DL. This situation appears to be coming to a head, with LaRue seemingly unhappy over his playing time and the trade deadline fast approaching. Let’s take a look at the Red’s three catchers and see if we sort through what we might expect from each moving forward, and what would be the best move for the Reds as far as the catching position goes.
Jason LaRue has been the Reds primary catcher for the last five seasons. Over each of these five seasons he has had between 350 and 400 ABs and has steadily increased his offensive production each year, starting with a 707 OPS in 2001, and ending with an 807 OPS last season. He’s the most experienced of the three catchers and has proven to be a solid above average offensive major league catcher the last three years. Defensively he seems to have improved a bit from his earlier days when he was very prone to passed balls, he does have a solid arm and has always done well at throwing out baserunners. The following are Jason’s cumulative career totals at each level from AA through the majors.
LaRue 32 Lvl G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG AVG OPS MLB 677 2139 250 514 124 6 80 293 181 619 11 11 .323 .416 .240 .739 AAA 170 631 104 157 38 3 27 94 42 115 3 6 .307 .447 .249 .754 AA 105 386 71 141 39 8 14 82 40 60 4 3 .429 .617 .365 1.046
Note the monster season season that Jason had at AA Chattanooga which seems to be a fluke season that he has yet to come close to reproducing. His AAA and ML numbers seem pretty much in line with each other. With Jason LuRue, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Mark him up for 400 ABs right around a 775 OPS and you will most likely not be disappointed. The only thing to keep in mind with Jason is the big contract he signed last off season. He’s making $3.9M this season and $5.2M next season. That’s a pretty hefty price tag next year for a catcher that may not produce an 800+ OPS again.
Javy Valentin surprised and pleased many Reds fans last season by putting up a career best 882 OPS in over 200 ABs last season. The only other two seasons that Javy has accumulated 200 or more ABs in the majors his OPS was 694 and 674. Javy Valentin appears to be a solid enough defensive catchers with no huge or apparent weaknesses. He is versatile enough to fill in at 1B from time to time when needed and has a propensity for coming up with a big pinch hit fromt the left side of the plate. The following are Valentin’s cumulative career totals at each level from AA through the majors.
Valentin 30 Lvl G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG AVG OPS MLB 395 1057 113 252 51 5 32 142 95 182 0 0 .307 .387 .238 .694 AAA 287 1026 147 301 78 5 45 186 97 231 1 2 .355 .511 .293 .866 AA 150 535 63 129 25 0 11 64 46 96 2 6 .300 .350 .241 .650
Valentin hit very well in AAA from 2000 to 2002 while in the Minnesota organization, but unfortunately, he was unable to transpose that success to the major league level, except for last season, which appears to be a fluke. I’d venture that with more consistant ABs at the major league level Javier might be expected to put up something in the neighborhood of a 725 OPS consistantly. Javier appears to be decent backup catcher who has the added bonus of hitting from the left side. He too is a bit pricey at $1.15M, thanks to his inflated numbers of last season.
David Ross is the new guy on the block. He came to the Reds as a relative unkown commodity, with a good defensive reputation, who had bounced around from Los Angeles to Pittsburg to San Diego over the last three seasons accumulating between 124 to 165 ABs each season. He’s had mixed results in small samples over this and the last three seasons. He hit very well in LA in 2003 and this season thus far for the Reds and pretty bad in 2004 and 2005 for LA, Pittsburgh, and San Diego. Combine the numbers and he has now cumulated over 530 ML ABs with a repectable 779 OPS. The following are David Ross’ cumulative career totals at each level from AA through the majors.
Ross 29 Lvl G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG AVG OPS MLB 210 534 64 127 24 3 31 78 52 164 0 0 .311 .468 .238 .779 AAA 128 419 64 113 22 2 20 86 51 124 1 3 .358 .475 .270 .833 AA 98 313 46 79 15 2 14 57 43 89 2 1 .358 .447 .252 .805
David Ross’ cumulative major league totals seem right in line with his solid minor league numbers. He takes his fair share of BBs and appears to have good power. Based on his minor league numbers, one could expect that Ross, given steady ABs, would continue to put up right about the the same 775 OPS that we might expect from Jason LaRue. Much like Javier Valentin last year, the 1.104 OPS David Ross is carrying this season is a small sample size abberation. Given Ross’ decent bat, solid defensive reputation, and small $.5M salary, he is most likely in the majors to stay.
So what should the Reds do about their current catching situation?
Based on the numbers above, I’d like to see the Reds deal Jason LaRue. I believe David Ross, who is three years younger and much cheaper, will hit as well as LaRue has the last two seasons, and is a superior defensive player. I’d make David Ross the starting catcher and keep Javier Valentin as the reserve. The Reds are in a position of strength at the catcher position and Larue is a decent chip to trade either idividually or as part of a package. It will be interesting to see if Wayne Krivsky is thinking along the same lines, and if so, what kind of market he can find and what kind of return value he can get for Jason LaRue.