Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 10/21/13
Welcome to TOC's offseason primers! We haven't officially reached the offseason yet, but it's never too early to look at the best players on the free agent market. Today, we take a look at the best free agent catchers available. One man defines this class: Brian McCann of the Braves. McCann is far and away the best catching option on the market, and his services won't come cheap, There's a solid second tier, consisting of guys like Carlos Ruiz, Geovany Soto, and AJ Pierzynski, but you might start to scrape the bottom of the barrel once you get past those guys. 1. Brian McCann. After missing the first month plus of the 2013 season following offseason shoulder surgery, McCann came back with a vengeance, hitting .291/.374/.536 in the first half of the season and looking 100%. But he slowed in the second half of the season, with his triple slash falling to .220/.296/.384 in the second half with just one home run in September. While McCann will get paid, there are definite red flags concerning him. His body has begun to fail him, and he'll be 30 in February - not exactly a great combination for a catcher who has already logged nearly 9000 innings behind the plate in the majors. The left-handed McCann also began to show significant platoon splits for the first time in his career in 2013, as he hit just .231/.279/.337 in 111 plate appearances against left-handers. An AL team will be his likely destination, and I'd wager McCann will end up in a role like Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli have been in over the last couple of seasons, splitting time behind the plate and as a DH. 2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty is an interesting guy. He's over a year younger than McCann, has caught half as many innings over his major league career, and hasn't suffered any serious injuries over his last few seasons in the bigs. Yet, Saltalamacchia is a very boom or bust hitter that seems to drive you crazy with his potential. Salty had a career-best triple slash of .273/.338/.466 in 2013, but that was due in large part to a .372 BABIP. He's a switch hitter in name only, because he can't hit lefties to save his life. This is also a player who has a near-30% strikeout rate over his career, something you really don't want to see. One of two things is going to happen in regards to Salty: he's going to be absurdly overpaid or ridiculously underpaid. There's no middle ground. He's not going to get something like 3/$24. It'll be either 4/$26 or 6/$72. 3. Carlos Ruiz. I think Ruiz is the third-best catcher on the market, despite his age, because of his skillset. Ruiz doesn't have a lot of power, 2012 not withstanding, and his 2011 season seems to be more in line with expectations going forward. Ruiz has a good handle on the strike zone, generally walking nearly as much as he strikes out, and has solid gap power while also handling a pitching staff very well. His 2013 season was sunk by a 25 game PED suspension to start the year and a strained hamstring eating a month of his time before the All-Star Break. In the second half, Ruiz hit .268/.320/.421 as his power finally turned the corner. He'll be 35 in January, which is a red flag, but would probably be able to play behind the plate more than McCann due to having less mileage on his body. 4. Geovany Soto. Soto justifiably wore out his welcome in Chicago before being dealt to the Rangers last summer, He didn't get much playing time in Texas this year due to the presence of AJ Pierzynski, but the soon-to-be 31-year old probably deserves a starting job after hitting .245/.328/.466 in 184 plate appearances this past season. His power has always been there, and he can draw a walk with some of the best backstops in the league, but the contact he makes can drive you absolutely nuts. He's the anti-Joey Votto in terms of infield pop-ups. Soto could be a great buy-low option for a team with an elite hitting coach. 5. AJ Pierzynski. Pierzynski predictably came back to earth after a great 2012, but still managed to mash 17 homers. However, Pierzynski still doesn't walk (just three free passes in the entire second half), and will be 37 in December. His body has so much mileage on it, and he might end up simply retiring and taking a TV job. That might be the best course of action for everyone, but if he does play, I'm not sure he can handle the daily load behind the plate anymore. If a team has a young catcher they want to ease in to the starting role (looking at you, Mariners), a veteran like Pierzynski could be a really great option. 6. Jose Molina. Molina isn't on this list because of his bat. Tampa Bay's 2013 backstop is a middling hitter, and the 313 plate appearances he received in 2013 were a career-high. But what Molina lacks in offense he makes up for in defense. This is one of the better defensive catchers in baseball, and his ability to frame pitches is one of the more underrated aspects of his game. If a team is simply looking for a solid hand to split time with another flawed catcher, Molina might be their guy. 7. Dioner Navarro. When it comes to Navarro, tread lightly. He had a great 2013 season, hitting .300/.365/.492 with a career-high 13 home runs, but consider this: Navarro was a below average player in the majors from 2009-2011, and he only spent the final two months of 2012 in the majors thanks to the struggles of Reds rookie Devin Mesoraco. Navarro will be 30 in February, and he's never come close to matching his output in 2013. If a team is looking for a solid backup, Navarro could be your guy. But if a team is looking to pay him more than $2 million a year and give him the bulk of playing time behind the plate, they might end up getting burned. 8. John Buck. Buck was a member of four different teams over the last year, going from Miami to Toronto to New York to Pittsburgh. His overall statline is skewed by an April where he hit .241/.269/.575 with nine homers. He homered just six times over the rest of the season. That's not to say that Buck is *terrible*, but he's not a legitimate power threat. At this point in his career, the 33-year old is a backup, but he's a solid defensive hand that won't kill you with the stick. 9. Kurt Suzuki. Remember when Suzuki was an up and coming future stalwart behind the plate for the A's? Well, now he's essentially an extra body. Oakland still needs to decline his club option for 2014 (which seems to be a near-certainty), so he's not out of the woods yet. But let's be honest: Suzuki is a backup now, a 30-year old defensive specialist that will absolutely kill you offensively. His offensive statistics over the past two seasons were worse than nearly every other catcher in baseball - that takes some skill. 10. Kelly Shoppach. Shoppach had a decent year in 2012 split between the Red Sox and Mets, but at 33, he's just organizational cannon fodder right now. He spent time with the Mariners, Pirates, Nationals, and Indians in 2013, hitting .193/.288/.339 in 127 major league plate appearances. I'm not sure if there's room for an all-bat, no-glove catcher on a team's bench, but if there is...this is your guy. [follow]

This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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