Hernandez tops list of valuable catching options

Hernandez tops list of valuable catching options

When one analyzes this winter's collection of free-agent catchers, the word dynamic wouldn't properly fit the description. Durable, dependable and affordable, however, those work just fine.

Like last year, the names on the list are mostly veterans and backups ready for platoon or mentoring roles. Yet, that doesn't mean there can't be a bit of intrigue behind the plate, if the right backstop lands a gig in the right situation.

Ramon Hernandez might be the headliner of this batch because of his long and successful body of work as a starting catcher in the big leagues, but keep an eye out for Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder. Both formerly of the Pirates and both of whom were plagued with injuries (Snyder had back surgery, Doumit had ankle problems) in 2011. While both are health risks, they have been productive at and behind the plate when healthy.

It wouldn't be a free agent pool of catchers without a Molina on the market. Yadier, the perennial All-Star for the newly crowned World Series champion Cardinals, could technically become a free agent if the team opts for a $750,000 buyout over his $7 million club option for 2012. However, there's virtually no chance St. Louis won't pick up that option.

However, Jose Molina, Yadier's 36-year-old brother, will be available, and he comes off a nice year in which he hit .281 with three homers in 171 at-bats for the Blue Jays.

Here's the rest of the picture for free agent catchers this offseason:

Looking to buy: The Pirates figure to be among the suitors, since they declined the options of both Doumit and Snyder. The Giants might take a look here if they're concerned about the progress of Buster Posey coming back from his leg injuries, and want more security behind the plate than is available within their system. Also look for Kansas City, the Mets, Houston and Toronto to possibly dip in here.

Top dog: Hernandez, 35, gets this slot by virtue of his .282/.341/.446 line with 12 homers and 36 RBIs in 298 at-bats for Cincinnati in 2011. While those aren't world-beater numbers, they're solid. The key is that he has remained healthy, which his closest pursuers in this category have not been able to do.

Best of the rest: While Doumit and Snyder, both 30 years old, offer more offensively than Hernandez, when healthy, neither have avoided the injury bug for the past several years. Pudge Rodriguez is out there, too, but the future Hall of Famer will turn 40 in late November and is no longer a significant offensive threat. Nevertheless, he has value as a backup for what he can teach a young catcher and a pitching staff.

Cardinals' backup Gerald Laird is only 32 years old and was once viewed as a potential starter, so a team might be willing to look past his offensive statistics, which have been in decline for three years. Rod Barajas still won't get on base often, but he'll hit the ball out of the park from time to time. The veteran tallied 16 home runs and 47 RBIs for the Dodgers last year.

Worth a shot? There are familiar names in this category, but each one comes with a question mark. Can Josh Bard prove he's starting-catching material? Can Jason Kendall get healthy in 2011 after shoulder surgery? Is Henry Blanco worth signing as a 40-year-old backup? Can Dioner Navarro somehow pretend it's 2008 again? Are Brian Schneider, Kelly Shoppach or Matt Treanor the answers? And will Jason Varitek really play for a team other than the Red Sox?

Potential 2012 class: This is where it gets interesting. There's some serious talent behind the plate possibly opening up in the free-agent market next year. What if the Braves decide they don't want to pay All-Star Brian McCann the $12 million club option for 2013 and the Phillies don't want to pick up Carlos Ruiz's $5 million option? Highly unlikely on both counts, but stranger things have happened. Also, two of the best-hitting catchers of 2011, Arizona's Miguel Montero and Texas' Mike Napoli, could be free agents next year.

The Rockies could buy out Chris Iannetta, who has shown promise and inconsistency, for $250,000 after this season, and he would likely be a hot commodity because of his power potential and age (30). Russell Martin bounced back with a big year for the Yankees and could be a free agent after 2012. Other solid starters who could be available after 2012 include A.J. Pierzynski and Miguel Olivo, along with probable backups Jeff Mathis, Koyie Hill, Wil Nieves, Ronny Paulino, Humberto Quintero, David Ross and Yorvit Torrealba.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB and read his MLBlog, Youneverknow. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.