After watching Chris Stewart be useless at the plate--and little better behind it--for 109 games this past season, there's little doubt the Yankees will be pursuing a catcher this offseason. They simply cannot afford another season of Stewart. We've already covered a number of the free agent alternatives on the market, but one remains that could possibly be a short-term solution while New York waits to see if J.R. Murphy or Gary Sanchez will develop into productive big league catchers: Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Saltalamacchia began his career with the Braves before moving on to the Rangers, where he platooned behind the plate. Upon being traded to the Red Sox in 2010, he became Boston's primary catcher, playing over a 100 games in each of the last three seasons. Saltalamacchia initially struggled at Fenway, posting OBPs of .288 in 2011 and 2012 to go along with fWARs of just 1.6 and 1.9. However, in 2013, he had his best year ever, hitting .273/.338/.466 with 14 HR, 65 RBI, a 3.6 fWAR.
Even though he's coming off a good year where he helped Boston win the World Series (words written as I choke back tears), Saltalamacchia was not extended a qualifying offer by Red Sox brass. While he certainly isn't as appealing as Brian McCann, Saltalamacchia will be the cheaper option for comparable productivity. McCann hit .256/.336/.461 with 20 HR, 57 RBI, and 2.7 fWAR last year (in what was admittedly a down year, but perhaps signals that his best days are behind him). Both hit with power from the left side of the plate (McCann hits left-handed and Saltalamacchia is a switch hitter, but 12 of his 14 homers came from the left side), meaning both of their power numbers should benefit from Yankee Stadium's short porch in right. Even though McCann is a bit better defensively (throwing out 24% of base stealers the last two years, compared to 18% and 21% for Saltalamacchia), that difference is not worth the tens of millions that will separate McCann's contract from Saltalamacchia's.
Still, the Yankees will be pursuing McCann hard; he's clearly their first choice, but if they do miss out on him, it likely will come down to Saltalamacchia versus Dioner Navarro. Navarro is coming off a career year with the Cubs in which he hit .300/.365/.492. While his fWAR was only 1.7, he is appealing because he likely will not be able to demand as many years as Saltalamacchia will, meaning he'll give the Yankees decent production along with, perhaps more importantly, a lot more flexibility down the road.
While McCann clearly has the best track record of the three catchers (he's been selected to the All-Star team seven times), the big contract he's looking for might not be worth it. Saltalamacchia had a good year and is unquestionably an upgrade over Chris Stewart, but was his 2013 season a sign of good things to come, or an aberration that next year will fail to live up to? With a number of teams looking for help behind the plate, Saltalamacchia's value may be driven up beyond what the Yankees should be willing to spend. As McCann seeks a 100 million dollar contract, Saltalamacchia may find a team desperate for a catcher (please don't be the Yankees) that will overpay for his services.
If New York can get him for two to three years at a reasonable price, he'd be a great addition to the lineup, and have an opportunity to up his power numbers by hitting so often in Yankee Stadium. But, if he demands more years and more money, he could get in the way of Gary Sanchez, one of the best prospects the Yankees have left, as well as further limiting the Yankees' flexibility. After years of handing out contracts with far too many years on them, hopefully the Yankees have learned their lesson.