As you’ve probably heard, the Indians haven’t gotten much offense from their catchers in 2016.
As you’ve probably seen, the above sentence is quite the understatement.
Yan Gomes, a player I predicted to have a monster season and re-establish himself as the premier catcher in the American League has had a worst-case scenario in every possible way and is currently on the disabled list with a separated shoulder. That leaves the Indians with Chris Gimenez and Roberto Perez, two guys who aren’t known (and probably never will be known) for their offense. We have a history on Gimenez, who has a .622 OPS in 8 seasons (mostly as a backup) with the Mariners, Indians, Rays, and Rangers. He is 33 years old and isn’t going to have a breakout season anytime soon.
Perez, on the other hand, is a relative unknown. He’s 27, and he’s fresh off of a season where he played in 70 games (filling in for an injured Gomes) and managed a .751 OPS, which is pretty terrific for a back-up rookie catcher pressed into duty. The Indians, heading into 2016, probably felt pretty confident in Perez as the main guy behind Gomes, should things go as wrong as they have for the popular Brazilian.
As you know, however, Perez himself got hurt and in his return from the DL over the last couple weeks he’s managed just 2 hits in 22 at-bats – or a .045 average. Currently, he isn’t a guy the Indians can count on for anything offensively, but, barring a surprise trade for Jonathan Lucroy, he’s going to be the guy behind the plate most of the time for the first-place Indians. So, we have to figure out: can Perez step up?
There is some cause for optimism – Perez is extremely patient at the plate. Indeed, his .751 OPS last season was buoyed by a .348 on-base percentage, which offset his lackluster .228 batting average. Very few hitters can be that patient and draw that many walks and end up as a lost cause at the plate — even when the hits aren’t coming, Perez can still draw walks and get on base. Even in 2016, with that horrific batting average, he still has a .281 on-base percentage – that’s right – Roberto Perez has walked in more than 25% of his plate appearances in 2016.
So yes, there’s definitely some hope for Perez to provide some positive offensive value, even if he isn’t doing it right now.
Defensively, Perez has been excellent in his limited major league time. He’s thrown out 41% of would-be base stealers, which is superb.
The Indians have said, in response to the Lucroy rumors, that they have faith in their current catching options. It might seem kind of silly to say that about a journeyman and a de facto rookie who is hitting south of .050, but the thought isn’t so crazy. Gimenez has built a rapport with Trevor Bauer and it isn’t foolish to think he’s helped to turn around the mercurial right-hander, and Perez has shown flashes of offensive promise, and his high walk rate suggests a good eye, which means the hits will come.
I still think that the Indians should do anything within reason to secure a solid veteran catcher like Lucroy, but if the team decides to stick it out with these two guys (and hope for a Gomes renaissance that seems more unlikely by the at-bat), I can’t find much fault in it.
The Indians bigger issues, perhaps, lies with the other guys on the end of the bench. People likes to bemoan Jason Giambi and his awful batting average, but he still provided a presence off the bench that you can’t quantify. Juan Uribe or whatever anonymous guy we bring up from Columbus just can’t provide solid value. Abraham Almonte had a decent 2015, but I haven’t talked to one person who had confidence that he could carry that over into a new season; fresh off a 60-game suspension for PED use, he has been largely invisible when he’s been put in the lineup.
The Indians need to find a veteran bat, something to bolster the bottom of the lineup and/or the bench. I don’t know where that bat is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some sort of minor deal made during the waiver period of August – a veteran playing out the string for a non contender? Someone like Jeff Francoeur, who only has a .676 OPS for Atlanta, wouldn’t be a bad addition to the bench and could probably be had for virtually nothing.
The Indians can’t be blamed for sticking with their young catchers. There is sufficient reason to believe in a turnaround, in a return to normalcy for Perez.
The Indians can be blamed, however, for not increasing their depth in some way as they aim for the postseason.