Catch me if you can: Market full of backstops

Market full of strong backstops

The free-agent market for catchers in 2009-10 is chock full of high-profile experience, durability and veteran savvy behind the plate.

Even though the catching crop's best offensive player, Victor Martinez, was taken off the table when the Red Sox, as expected, picked up his $7.7 million option, recent World Series-tested backstops such as Bengie Molina (2002), Ivan Rodriguez (2003, '06), Yorvit Torrealba (2007) and Rod Barajas (2001) are, or are expected to be, available.

Molina, who won a World Series ring with the Angels in '02, continues a career as a highly respected defensive catcher and proceeds to develop as a run-producing hitter, spending a good portion of the 2009 season hitting in the cleanup spot for the San Francisco Giants. As the only Type A free agent in the catching pool, Molina figures to land a similar role as a dependable starting backstop and a middle-of-the-order bat.

The Type B group offers familiar names and the possibility of some seriously confusing uniform exchanging if players and their 2009 teams can't figure out a way to stay together.

The Brewers want to keep Jason Kendall, and the Blue Jays would love to re-up with Barajas, but it wouldn't be surprising if deals can't be worked out and those players were effectively "traded" for each other.

In addition to Martinez, there are also two catchers off the market as well starting at midnight ET Friday since Jason Varitek exercised his $3 million player option to return to the Red Sox and Ramon Hernandez re-upped with the Reds on a one-year, $3 million contract with a vesting option for 2011.

Under rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, players may file for free agency beginning the day after the conclusion of the World Series, which was Thursday, and continue to do so for a 15-day period. Their 2009 teams retain negotiating exclusivity for the same term, after which, beginning on Nov. 20, other teams can enter the picture. Here are the catchers:

Head of the class
Molina (20 HR, 80 RBIs, .265 AVG), Type A: The veteran batted .265 and drove in 80 runs in 2009, with a career-high 20 homers in a pitchers' park in San Francisco, which made up for his .285 on-base percentage. Molina is 35 and has had a history of leg injuries, but he's still regarded as a solid defender and game-caller. That's why he made $6 million last year and qualifies as the only Type A backstop available.

Miguel Olivo, (23-65-.249), Type B: He's one of the younger available catchers at 31, and he had a career run-production year for Kansas City in 2009 with 23 homers and 65 RBIs. Teams that crave high on-base percentage will frown at his .292 number in that department this past season.

Torrealba, (2-31-.291), Type B: One of the younger players in the class at 31, Torrealba continued to prove his worth for the Rockies in 2009, winning the starting job from Chris Iannetta and coming up with a handful of big hits down the stretch and in the postseason.

Barajas, (19-71-.226), Type B: He proved to be a durable starter for Toronto in 2009, catching a career-high 125 games and contributing 19 homers and 71 RBIs, even though he hit only .226 and had an OBP of .258. He's only 34, and the Jays will try to sign him once again.

Kendall, (2-43-.241), Type B: The veteran hasn't done much lately in the way of offense -- .241 batting average, two homers and 43 RBIs in 2009 -- but he is a rock behind the plate and a target pitchers love to throw to. It's likely that Kendall, who will turn 36 next June, will re-up with Milwaukee.

Rodriguez, (10-47-.249), Type B: The skills with the bat have obviously declined with age, but Pudge, who will turn 38 later this month, is still regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game. He's likely looking for a two-year deal, though, which might price him out of Texas.

Gregg Zaun, (8-27-.260), Type B: Zaun can still turn on a fastball, and he had a decent .345 on-base percentage with eight homers in 262 at-bats with the Orioles and Rays in 2009. He'll be 39 in April, though, and might not be a starting option for many teams.

Also on the market
Eliezer Alfonzo (Padres), Brad Ausmus (Dodgers), Paul Bako (Phillies), Josh Bard (Nationals), Michael Barrett (Blue Jays), Henry Blanco (Padres), Ramon Castro (White Sox), Chris Coste (Astros), Michel Hernandez (Rays), Jason LaRue (Cardinals), Chad Moeller (Orioles), Jose Molina (Yankees), Mike Redmond (Twins) and Brian Schneider (Mets).

Ready to buy
The Nationals and Mets are in the market for front-line guys, and if the Blue Jays (Barajas) and Brewers (Kendall) strike out in efforts to re-sign their guys, a quick game of musical catchers could develop.

Window shopping
It'll be a veteran-backup bonanza for the Cardinals, Giants, Astros, Red Sox, Indians and Phillies -- all of whom figure to be in the market for one-year stopgap options.

Potential 2011 class
Joe Mauer, A.J. Pierzynski, John Buck, Raul Chavez, Gerald Laird and David Ross.

Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.