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AL Catchers: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

Welcome to Rotohelp's Annual Catcher Week!

Another season brings another major change to our annual off-season player reviews. Expanding our player tables allows us to include our 2006 projected statistics and fantasy values, when available, above each player's actual 4x4 and 5x5 dollar values, runs above replacement, and adjusted runs above replacement, which takes into consideration Scoresheet's defensive values.

Beginning today with catchers, I will spend the next several weeks reviewing every player who appeared in the majors during the 2006 season in ascending order from positions with the least depth, like catcher and shortstop, to those with the most variety of talent, such as outfielders, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers.

American League Catchers with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
B = Bats.  T = Throws.  Age = Player's Age as of October 1, 2006.
Proj. = Rotohelp's projected 2006 stats and fantasy values for each player.
2006 = Each player's final 2006 stat line and fantasy values.
AB = At-bats.  H = Hits.  BA = Batting Average.  HR= Home Runs.
RBI = Runs Batted In.  SB = Stolen Bases.  R = Runs.
Pos = Position qualification based on 20 appearances or max. # of games in 2006.
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement; aRAR = RAR adjusted to
consider a player's 2006 defensive rating in Scoresheet fantasy baseball.

We ranked players by position in order from the highest draft value in a 4x4 league to the lowest. As the majority of fantasy leagues allow you to keep anyone traded to the other league, we listed all players in the league where they began the season.

1.  Joe MauerMIN TwinsAge: 23B:L   T:R

Perhaps the most valuable player in baseball due to his combination of offensive prowess, defensive acumen, and a miniscule current salary, Mauer blossomed into a superstar this summer, finishing first in the league in batting average, third in OBP, and seventh in OPS. While we still believe Derek Jeter posted better overall numbers than Mauer, the Twins' catcher easily deserved to finish above teammate Justin Morneau in the MVP balloting. Mauer's continued excellence over the next few seasons will help illustrate the foolishness of the MVP vote last month, though for fantasy purposes, Morneau's higher profile may provide your only hope of realizing any significant discount on Mauer. Right now Mauer warrants $30 bids without question, and in leagues with owners who believe in position scarcity as a question of valuation and not draft strategy, bidding could approach $40. As I expect a notable BA drop, coupled with power stagnation courtesy of his 1.91 G-F, I barley view Mauer as a good investment for about $25. Unless you already own him for less than that price, remember that he only turns 24 in April and allow your league's other owners to push his price to an unacceptably lofty level.

2.  Victor MartinezCLE IndiansAge: 27B:S   T:R

Increasingly awful defense thankfully hasn't prompted a move to first base for Martinez. The Indians don't mind fielding one of the best hitting catchers in the majors despite his failure to control the running the game. Martinez also lacks any speed of note and continues to regress in the power department, but with a percolating walk rate buoying his .300 BA, he could reach a .400 OBP next summer. Hitting behind Travis Hafner also offers plenty of RBI opportunities, and with Martinez under the Indians' control through the end of the decade, I expect nothing less than annual $20 outputs from him. Resurgent power numbers just might push him toward $30, so feel free to invest as much as a tenth of your budget to secure the services of the safest bet among AL catchers.

3.  Ivan RodriguezDET TigersAge: 34B:R   T:R

A nice rebound season from IRod provided yet another set of arguments for his ranking as the top catcher in baseball history. He still controls the running game as well as anyone in the league, and despite generally poor plate discipline, he continued to hold a high batting average with decent power numbers. The biggest question concerning IRod in 2007 involves his lineup slot since he absolutely shouldn't remain in the #3 hole following the acquisition of Gary Sheffield. An expected move lower in the order should cut both his at-bats and quantitative stats, so although I feel loathe to spend another winter doubting IRod's abilities, his fantasy value should finish closer to $10 than $20 next year.

4.  Jason KendallOAK AthleticsAge: 32B:R   T:R

Kendall simply hasn't proven a good fit in Oakland as only his decent OBP at all offsets his negligible power and unimpressive defensive contributions. With Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell approaching the majors, I absolutely expect the Athletics to allow Kendall to depart as a free agent after 2008. Of course, a free agent push should lead to another set of strong numbers from Kendall, so while he offers the most upside to clubs looking to improve their BA foundation, Kendall just might make a surprising overall contribution next summer.

5.  Kenji JohjimaSEA MarinersAge: 30B:R   T:R

Largely eclipsed by the American League's historic class of rookie pitchers, Johjima nevertheless still impressed in his North American debut. A .91 contact rate helped him overcome otherwise weak plate discipline, leading to solid power numbers and even a surprisingly high batting average. While his performance may not convince the Mariners to move Jeff Clement to a different position or team, Johjima appears locked at catcher in Seattle for 2007. He runs little risk of any significant sophomore slump thanks to his extensive Japanese experience, making him a perfectly reasonable investment anywhere shy of $15.

6.  A.J. PierzynskiCH White SoxAge: 29B:L   T:R

If Ozzie Guillen opts for a logical platoon of Pierzynski with recent addition Toby Hall, both catchers could return fairly high batting averages, a situation that could benefit Pierzynski in particular due to the otherwise strong likelihood that his BA will drop well below his .288 career mark next summer. He just doesn't possess much plate discipline, making your approximate $10 investment surprisingly risky despite his consistent contributions over the past several seasons. Simply alternating the two veteran at random won't provide an obvious benefit to either catcher or the White Sox, but unless Ozzie declares his intention to minimize Pierzynski's exposure to southpaws, we should see A.J. struggle to hold double-digit value in 2007.

7.  Jorge PosadaNY YankeesAge: 35B:S   T:R

Rather than continue his decline from the previous two campaigns, Posada nicely rebounded in 2006, even surpassing his 2004 fantasy value. However, declining patience and a career-best .91 G-F should lead to BA problems. With New York also unable to find even suitable backup backstops, Posada also remains at risk of injury due to the combination of his heavy workload and advancing age. He certainly could echo these stats yet again, but I see plenty of downside here and no reason to bid into double digits despite the obvious fantasy potential Posada possesses as long as he hits in the middle of the Yankees' lineup.

8.  Ramon HernandezBAL OriolesAge: 30B:R   T:R

Baltimore's somewhat unexpected signing of Hernandez to a four-year pact last winter paid surprising early dividends as Hernandez posted career-best marks in several categories while incumbent starter Javy Lopez ended the year unemployed. Solid all-around batting skills make Hernandez a good bet to remain a definite asset in 2007. Although I at least anticipate an RBI drop if not overall offensive regression since he should bat lower in the order next summer, Hernandez otherwise remains a solid play, easily worthy of double-digt bids in almost every league.

9.  Josh BardBOS/SDAge: 28B:S   T:R

Stuck behind Victor Martinez and Tim Laker in Cleveland despite showing plenty of offensive promise in the minors, Bard headed to Boston last winter with Coco Crisp in the Andy Marte deal. The ten passed balls he allowed in a month of catching Tim Wakefield soured the Red Sox on breaking in a new backstop for their veteran knuckleballer during the season, so the club quickly addressed the issue by reacquiring Doug Mirabelli from the Padres only month after trading him for Mark Loretta. Unfortunately, Boston offered not only Bard, but also Cla Meredith, who emerged as one of baseball's best relievers in San Diego. Bard similarly blossomed given regular at-bats, and while his 2.18 G-F provides with one reason why his .333/.404/.522 averages on the year will plummet as a full-time starter in 2007, I just don't anticipate a complete meltdown. Not only did he hold a .294/.380/.471 performance in the second-half, Bard's solid plate discipline at least will keep his BA and OBP nicely above average. Of course, he also shouldn't return to double-digit roto value, but in the $6-8 range he appears a perfect high-upside target for your second catcher.

10.  Ben MolinaTOR Blue JaysAge: 32B:R   T:R

The most famous of the catching Molina Brothers lost last winter's catcher roulette by failing to accept Omar Minaya's multi-year contract offer early in the off-season and instead only netted $4M from Toronto to split playing time with Gregg Zaun. Although Molina unsurprisingly posted the best stats of his career in the Rogers Centre, the Jays cut him loose and he eventually landed a three-year deal with the Giants. Of course, playing in San Francisco should cut his stats rather precipitously, so unless Molina follows the path of other veteran additions to the Giants by seemingly learning plate discipline by Bonds Osmosis, he appears a risky acquisition above the $6-8 range.

Catcher Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: We saw several veteran catchers defy expectations regarding their continued declines to post surprisingly strong fantasy seasons this year. I don't expect most of the AL's old guard of backstops to hold off Father Time for another summer, so instead of attempting to eke out one more campaign with veterans like IRod, Kendall, and Posada behind the plate, target the upside of younger catchers like Victor Martinez and even Kenji Johjima to vastly increase your shot at seeing a real profit on your investment at this position.

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