It became apparent quite early in the off-season process this past winter that the Twins would need to find at least one more catcher. Even if the team had been ready to commit to giving Josmil Pinto full-time catcher duties, finding a backup with Major League experience was high on the to-do list. Chris Herrmann, for all his talents, would have given the Twins a pair of unknown quantities at the position.
That was an unlikable scenario for any number of reasons, not the least of which was the talent that was needed to catch a rotation that was baseball's worst the previous season. On a team desperate for a better performance from the starting pitching, having so few Major League innings of experience behind the plate wasn't ideal.
The Twins took public runs at A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. When both of those options went by the wayside John Buck nearly signed with Minnesota, while fans were hoping for J.P Arencibia because of his solid pitch framing skills and tempting power. When the new catcher turned out to be Kurt Suzuki, the reception was very much one of "Okay, sure, that's not a bad call."
As it's turned out, the Twins' front office might have made the pick of the off-season when it came to free agent catchers. Below is a list of all Major League contracts given out to catchers over the winter, with the lone exception being the Royals' Francisco Pena, who has made one MLB appearance so far this season and hasn't taken an at-bat.
|Brian McCann||Yankees||5||$85.0 MM||30||237||75||.283||74||0.6|
|Carlos Ruiz||Phillies||3||$26.0 MM||35||230||75||.350||121||1.6|
|Jarrod Saltalamacchia||Marlins||3||$21.0 MM||29||182||102||.328||106||1.0|
|A.J. Pierzynski||Red Sox||1||$8.25 MM||37||214||89||.302||85||0.6|
|Dioner Navarro||Blue Jays||2||$8.0 MM||30||217||82||.295||83||0.1|
|Jose Molina||Rays||2||$4.5 MM||39||108||-4||.157||-6||-1.0|
|Geovany Soto||Rangers||1||$3.05 MM||30||184||114||.348||114||1.0|
|Kurt Suzuki||Twins||1||$2.75 MM||30||217||116||.344||118||0.9|
|Brayan Pena||Reds||2||$2.275 MM||32||158||84||.291||80||0.2|
|J.P. Arencibia||Rangers||1||$1.8 MM||28||66||14||.187||4||-0.5|
|Wil Nieves||Phillies||1||$1.125 MM||36||51||64||.264||62||0.0|
|John Buck||Mariners||1||$1.0 MM||33||64||97||.308||94||0.4|
Just comparing Suzuki to the three other catchers that we know the Twins were targeting: Saltalamacchia just hit the disabled list but has been okay so far this year; Pierzynski might be worth his contract by the end of the season but he hasn't looked that good; Buck has barely played.
But when you look over this list, is there one other catcher you'd rather have right now than Kurt Suzuki? Ruiz is, typically, hitting well this season, but then you'd still be on the hook to pay him a significant figure for his age-36 and age-37 seasons. McCann's deal was a huge mistake before he even played a game. Salty hasn't been too bad, but he's been catching less than Suzuki and is still on the books for two more years. Maybe you could pick Soto, since his nine homers are lending him a good deal of value. In fact, that's about as apples-to-apples as you could get considering both he and Suzuki are hitting better than you would expect and are each on decent one-year deals.
The baseball gods have a bizarre sense of humor. Suzuki has not only been the best option to date when comparing him to the three other players the front office had been considering, even though before the season most people would have put money on Saltalamacchia and Pierzynski being the better options, but he's been one of the best-performing free agent catchers...who just happens to be on a one-year deal. Catching lightning in a bottle is what the Twins have tried and failed to do so many times in the past (endless pitchers, Rondell White, Tony Batista, and I'm not going to hurt you by continuing), and I'm not sure that's what they were trying to do this year...but it worked.
I feel like there's a life lesson in there somewhere. Don't worry about it. And hey, the USA beat Ghana in a must-win matchup in the World Cup! Bonus!