- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Somewhat lost in the unsatisfying way the Atlanta Braves-Pittsburgh Pirates game ended early Wednesday morning was the fact the best catcher in baseball -- certainly he's No. 1 in fantasy by a healthy margin this season -- was forced to leave early with a strained left oblique. Brian McCann is pretty good, folks; he leads all catcher-eligible players in home runs and is second in RBIs and batting average to Victor Martinez!
I'm no doctor, but a strained oblique is obviously a big deal for anyone attempting to hit a baseball, and it's a hindrance to playing catcher as well, but the Braves believe this is a short-term injury, one that shouldn't cost McCann more than three weeks of playing time. Of course, there's always a chance the problem lingers. For fantasy owners in standard roto leagues, the pending DL stint isn't good news, but McCann shouldn't be cut, either. You can live for three weeks with a free-agent addition, and at this position, there actually are options.
If McCann misses three of the final nine weeks, your team can survive, especially since the catcher pool isn't as shallow as one might think. In a head-to-head format, I'd still keep him around; the playoffs are set to begin the final Monday of August, per ESPN rules, which doesn't leave much time. You want McCann around in September. Most catchers wear down as a long season progresses, so having the best one get a three-week break -- he's gotta be tired, ranking second among all backstops in full innings caught -- might not be so bad. Hey, you have to attempt the positive angle here.
New Braves starting catcher David Ross can probably be termed one of the best backups in the game. He has starting experience, having hit 38 home runs for the Cincinnati Reds in 2006-07, and while batting average has been a rather large issue for fantasy owners throughout his career, he's currently hitting .286. Well, forget about that now. It's odd, in a way; I own Ross for a dollar in a multi-catcher format with nothing out there on free agency. I've enjoyed the handful of home runs and safe batting average. Ross is likely to see all that change in the next few weeks; look for good power but a low batting average ahead. I can already see I liked him as a backup better!
McCann is one of only five catchers owned in 100 percent of ESPN standard (10-team) leagues (Martinez, Joe Mauer, Carlos Santana and Miguel Montero). It should be noted that in these leagues, there's only one active catcher slot, so there's no reason to own a second one. In deeper formats, two active catchers are often the rule. Four other catchers are owned in at least half of ESPN's leagues (Matt Wieters, Alex Avila, Mike Napoli and Yadier Molina). Here are some other catchers to add ... and to avoid:
Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs: He's hitting .291 with two home runs and nine RBIs over the past month, ranking 10th on the Player Rater at his position in that time. Hey, I had him as a top 10 catcher in March. I'd invest.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox: Available in 96 percent of standard leagues, his three home runs and 11 RBIs over the past month stack up well with the top guys. The batting average has hung around .250 for the most part.
Josh Thole, New York Mets: I think this fellow can help a team in batting average. He's at .273 for the past month, and a year ago for the big club he hit .277. When he raises his batting average 20 points from here out, you'll be pleased.
Here are five catchers I would not be adding at this time:
J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays:The power remains, but at what cost? He boasts only 20 hits since the start of June, seven of them are home runs. I'd argue the .158 batting average makes him unownable, especially since he plays a lot.
Russell Martin/Jorge Posada, New York Yankees: Same problem, really. Each can knock in runs and Martin can steal a base, but they each play so much -- Posada at DH -- the awful batting average (.208 for the past 30 days for Martin, .210 for Posada) is too much to handle. By the way, don't add minor leaguer Jesus Montero, either. He's not coming up to help.
Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers: Surprise! He's fourth on the Player Rater for the season but he's really, really struggling. Avila is hitting .194 with one RBI and two runs scored in the past 30 days. That's hideous. We thank him for his contributions for three months, but don't feel guilty about moving on.