The Miami Marlins finally shored up their catcher position in the offseason by picking up free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia with a three-year, $21 million deal. The upside for the Marlins is that they were able to avoid utilizing the rest of their catching corps that was left from last season. Last year, the Marlins collectively posted one of the worst offensive lines from any one position in recent memory, as their catchers struggled to a .192/.249/.280 (.235 wOBA).
Two of those catchers figure to play potential roles on the 2014 team. What are the outlooks for Jeff Mathis and Rob Brantly for this upcoming season?
Depth Chart: Catcher
1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
2. Jeff Mathis
Minor league depth: Rob Brantly
The Fish turned to Jeff Mathis last year after Brantly failed to take hold of the starting job thanks to his struggles. It seemed almost inevitable that Mathis would take over the starting role when he arrived on the team, as he seems to take hold of jobs and suck up plate appearances wherever he goes. His offensive performance was unsurprisingly dreadful last season, as were his defensive strengths. On the one hand, he hit .181/.251/.284 (.236 wOBA), which was actually worse than his usual standard. On the other hand, he worked to mentor the young pitching staff and received a good share of credit (rightfully or otherwise) for the success of Jose Fernandez and the rest of the staff.
Though at times it seemed that manager Mike Redmond was more than content with Mathis's play last year, the Marlins' front office knew that the franchise would need someone else to man the position. Mathis's offensive performance was too frightening to accept for a second straight season, so the Fish signed Saltalamacchia. That reduced Mathis to a backup and platoon role, as Saltalamacchia's struggles against left-handed pitching are well known. The good news is that Mathis is a better hitter versus lefties than righties; he owns a career .210/.276/.344 (.270 wOBA) against them. The problem is that, with Mathis's level of incompetence at the plate, he is actually even with Saltalamacchia offensively versus lefties, which really is a shot at both of them.
Nevertheless, the Marlins should benefit from having the defensively-competent Mathis behind the plate calling the signals for the team. Given that Saltalamacchia is not better than Mathis at hitting lefties, the team will at least get some defensive benefit out of having Mathis behind the plate. Last season, he threw out a third of would-be basestealers, beating out the league average by a fair amount. Combined with his supposedly strong game-calling, Miami will at least not be throwing all of their $1.5 million away by sending Mathis out once or twice a week.
Brantly was given time to be the catcher of the future for the Fish, but he failed woefully last year as well. He lost a lot of the power that he displayed in a small sample in 2012, could not find the line drive swing he displayed that season as well, and still had the same defensive difficulties that plagued his minor league career. In essence, the things that made him an attractive prospect heading into 2013 evaporated from his game in less than 250 plate appearances.
Now that the Marlins signed Saltalamacchia, they will allow Brantly the chance to develop again in Triple-A, a level he mostly skipped on his way to the big leagues. Triple-A New Orleans has an abundance of catchers in Brantly, Kyle Skipworth, and Jake Jeffries, but only Brantly has any significant promise left. If the Marlins can get anything out of him, he may still be a part of their plans after the 2016 season or remain as minor league trade bait. But given the low level at which he is starting, this seems like an unlikely scenario. Expect Brantly to get a chance to rip it in the Pacific Coast League but not make a major league dent for the majority of the season.