The two starting major league catchers in the state of Missouri signed long-term contract extensions Monday, and while fantasy baseball owners are well aware of what St. Louis Cardinals veteran Yadier Molina can provide, I'm guessing most people don't know who Kansas City Royals youngster Salvador Perez is. Well, here's a brief primer, because while only one of them is likely to appear on a standard mixed-league roster this season -- remember, only one catcher per team needed in ESPN leagues -- the other really should matter this season as well, and for years to come.
By this point, most everyone should know what Molina brings to the table, and it's more than fantastic defense. After years of providing mostly safe batting averages, Molina smacked 14 home runs in 2011; his previous career best was eight from 2005. Molina's current ESPN catcher rank of ninth doesn't reflect the theory that his power will continue to grow, but it's not uncommon for backstops to develop this skill late. Molina is only 29. As far as keeper-league catchers go, I'd call him a relatively safe bet for the next few seasons, and a top-10 option.
Perez is likely to be a bit misjudged if you peer solely at his small sample size of 2011 production. Yes, Perez hit .331 for the Royals over 39 games, including a wild .484/.543/.742 slash line against left-handed pitching. Well, don't expect that to continue. Nobody does that. Perez is the team's starter, and he's 21 with a bright future ahead of him, and he kind of reminds me a bit of Molina, at least offensively. While the sample sizes are small, Perez has hit for average in the minors, shown some power -- but not J.P. Arencibia -type slugging -- avoided strikeouts and appeared durable. But again, he's only 21. Let's see him do it for 400 at-bats in the big leagues.
ESPN has Perez wisely ranked at No. 15, meaning he's a perfectly appropriate choice for multi-catcher leagues, if not a somewhat coveted one. I surveyed message boards to see what the reaction to the Perez signing was, and it seemed like many commenters just didn't know him. Then again, he's with the Royals, and most people would be hard-pressed to name the franchise's top five in catching games lifetime (Brent Mayne is second).
Is it possible that Perez is a better long-term keeper than Molina? It absolutely is, mainly because of the age difference, but let's remind everyone that in general catchers are poor investments to begin with. It's understandable why the Cardinals locked up Molina, and kudos to the Royals for acquiring theirs at an affordable rate. Fantasy owners shouldn't think along the same lines, even for the potentially top options.
The main reasons catchers can make for toxic keepers is because they get hurt, but also the demands of the position make offensive performance difficult to maintain, not only for a career, but over the course of an individual season as well. Sure, Joe Mauer is an extreme example from 2011, but look at last season's top five backstops in ESPN average live drafts: Mauer, Victor Martinez, Buster Posey, Brian McCann and Carlos Santana. Mauer, despite three batting titles, remains an injury risk after missing almost half the season with myriad issues. In five years, he could be playing right field. Heck, it could happen this season! Martinez blew out his knee a few months ago. Posey got run over last year and missed 100-plus games. McCann and Santana were good. In the past, Geovany Soto, Kurt Suzuki, Chris Iannetta and Ryan Doumit have been nominated as top-10 catching options. Look at the inconsistency they have provided.
Both the Cardinals and Royals seem to be receiving kudos for their separate contract announcements. I agree; the world champs kind of needed to make that move, while the young and potentially exciting Royals needed cost control. But fantasy owners shouldn't run with either decision as wise for statistical or strategic purposes.