Around the Horn: Catchers
Ross tries to repeat big year; Valentin, Moeller capable reserves
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
The following is the first in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Catchers.
CINCINNATI -- At the time, the trade seemed kind of perplexing.
After all, Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky's March acquisition of catcher David Ross from the Padres for Minor League pitcher Bobby Basham came near the end of Spring Training. Cincinnati already had two capable catchers in Jason LaRue and Javier Valentin -- both were coming off career seasons. And Ross was out of options and had to make the camp's final cut or be exposed to waivers if he got sent down to Triple-A.
Shortly after Ross arrived, LaRue went down with a knee injury and missed the start of the season. That opened the door for Ross, and it never shut. Along with Bronson Arroyo and Brandon Phillips, the 29-year-old proved to be one of Krivsky's shrewdest trades of the season.
Ross, who came in with a reputation as mainly a defensive-minded catcher, established career highs with 21 home runs (ranked third among National League catchers) and 52 RBIs and played a career-high 90 games (73 starts) while batting .255. Before 2006, he had never played more than 70 games or hit more than 10 homers.
Funny how that perplexing deal worked out.
"We were very pleasantly surprised," Krivsky said. "Of all the players we acquired, from a production standpoint, he may have been the single nicest surprise, especially with his offensive production and power."
Ross began the year mainly as Arroyo's personal catcher, catching 32 of the All-Star pitcher's 35 starts. But as LaRue struggled to get going after returning from the disabled list, Ross emerged as the primary catcher by early June and batted .311 before the All-Star break.
LaRue and his $5.2 million salary were traded to Kansas City in November. For 2007, Ross now has an unabated shot at trying to follow up on his breakout season. To be successful, he'll need to be more consistent. He batted only .203 in the second half, with a sore left foot partially to blame.
"He tailed off at the end, but our whole team did," Krivsky said. "I was very pleased with David Ross, and we're glad we have him."
Defensively, Ross threw out a respectable 45 percent of runners attempting to steal, and the Reds pitching staff had a team-best 4.28 ERA when he was behind the plate. He also caught five of the club's 10 shutouts. But he also had a .985 fielding percentage and committed eight errors. Those are not bad numbers, but for a defensive-minded catcher, there's some room for improvement.
Valentin's intangible value to the Reds was emphasized in August when the club re-signed him to a one-year, $1.25 million contract extension for 2007 with a $1.3 million club option for 2008 instead of waiting for the offseason.
The switch-hitting Valentin's time behind the plate was limited the most during the Reds' three-catcher tango last season. But he emerged as an important lefty pinch-hitter and game-changer off the bench with four pinch-hit homers. He had no homers as a pinch-hitter before 2006.
In his 46 games as catcher, including 32 starts, Valentin threw out 44 percent of runners attempting to steal. Overall, the 31-year-old batted .269 with eight homers and 27 RBIs.
"He's a good receiver and did nice job throwing out runners," Krivsky said. "He brings offense, particularly from the left side, and he's quite versatile. He can play first base in a pinch. He's a positive influence on our younger players. He knows his role and is good in the clubhouse."
It's possible that the Reds could use some sort of a platoon between Ross and Valentin, depending on how manager Jerry Narron decides to go as he constantly tinkers with his lineups. Ross batted .316 vs. lefties and .228 against right-handers last season. Valentin batted .286 against righties and .111 vs. lefties.
LaRue is gone, but three remains the magic number for the Reds at catcher. Only one week after he dealt LaRue, Krivsky signed free agent Chad Moeller to a one-year deal because he wanted to maintain depth at the position. Moeller batted .184 in 29 games for the Brewers in 2006. Before he spent three seasons in Milwaukee, the 31-year-old was with the Diamondbacks (2001-03) and Twins (2000). He is a career .227 hitter over 384 big-league games, but like Ross a season ago, he comes to town with a reputation for defense.
"I've always been a Chad Moeller fan," said Krivsky, who knew Moeller while he worked in Minnesota's front office and later watched as a scout of NL clubs. "He knows how to call a game and handle a pitching staff. Offensively, I think he's capable of doing better. He knows his role and really studies the inside game stuff. He's going to help get the most out of the pitchers."