We’re About To Learn What’s More Important

Update: apparently, Ausmus went ahead and agreed to terms with the Dodgers less than an hour after I originally posted this. He’ll get $1m for one year. Not to be outdone, the Padres then turned right around and signed Henry Blanco – who, as you’ll see below, is superior to Ausmus both at bat and defensively – for $250,000 less. Just in case you need to be bludgeoned over the head with it, the Dodgers just paid more for an older catcher who can’t hit or throw than the Padres did for a guy who can do a bit of both. Because, that makes sense. I strongly look forward to Vin Scully explaining that Ausmus went to an Ivy League school 50 times this year. The original post from this afternoon remains below.

Would you prefer having a backup catcher who can actually produce… or one that Joe Torre might actually play? We’re hardly alone in the Dodger blogosphere in calling for Russell Martin to get some more rest (check out his declining OPS by month last year, bouncing back only in September when he did get some time off); it’s been one of our recurring themes for quite some time. And no, Joe, third base does not count as a rest, though with Casey Blake around that’s unlikely to happen as much as last year.

While we’ve all spent countless words on Manny, Furcal, and starting pitching, it shouldn’t be ignored that backup catcher is a pretty important role if we want to see Martin live to age 30. In 2007, we had the Token Veteran Goodness of Mike Lieberthal, who had all of one RBI that year. In 2008, we had the Token Veteran Goodness of Gary Bennett explode in our faces
ausmus.jpg(and all over the infield), only to be replaced by Brotherhood of the Traveling Masks member Danny Ardoin. Clearly, the Token Veteran route hasn’t worked out. So what’s the plan for 2009?

Uh oh.

Free-agent catcher Brad Ausmus, seeking to play for a team near his home in Del Mar, Ca., is in the process of choosing between the Dodgers and Padres, according to major-league sources.
 
The Dodgers are Ausmus’ likely choice, sources say – they figure to be a stronger contender in the NL West next season than the Padres, who are reducing their payroll to $40 million.
Ausmus is going to be 40 years old in April, and hasn’t been a good hitter since… well, ever. Only twice in his long career has he even been a league-average hitter, and the last time came ten seasons ago in 1999 – when he hit the 100 mark right on the nose. Last year he sank all the way to an abysmal .218/.303/.296 with just 11 extra base hits in 81 games with Houston. ”But MSTI,” you might say. “A catcher who can hit is the exception, not the other way around. Ausmus is a good backstop with a strong arm, which is more important than his bat.” Well, that might have been true once upon a time. It’s just that now, he’s actually a detriment behind the dish – FanGraphs has his defensive value on a three-year slide, placing him at a negative value in the last two seasons. Plus, his 20.8% caught stealing ratio would place him third from the bottom of the catchers who played enough to qualify in 2008, if he’d been a qualifier.
 
Clearly, Ausmus isn’t going to help much whether he’s besides the plate or behind it, and it’s not like there aren’t other decent backstops out there. Former Dodger Henry Blanco is coming off a respectable .292/.325/.392 season with the Cubs, and has thrown out more than 45% of base stealers in four of the last five seasons. Former Red Javier Valentin put up a decent 2008 of .256/.326/.411 and is even a switch-hitter. So why are we considering a player that’s inferior to both at the plate and to at least one in the field?
 
Oh, right. Because he’s this year’s Token Veteran Backup Catcher. Maybe his name recognition will cause Torre to at least play him; but with those stats why would you want him to? You’d almost rather see a run-down Martin every day.  
 
(No, we didn’t miss today’s announcement that Jeff Kent was retiring. It’s just that it was basically a foregone conclusion and we’ve covered his career here already. Besides, now is not the time for looking backwards! We must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom! Best of luck, Jeff. We’ll miss you. There were more than a few times where you carried this offense. You prickly jerk.)
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