Position Roundtables: Backup Catcher
Dave: Backup catcher: Dan Wilson
We could sit here and pile on Dan Wilson if we wanted. It wouldn’t be
hard to talk about how only 4 major league catchers who received at
least 200 at-bats last year had a lower VORP than Danny Boy’s -2.1.
We could explain how his ability to call a game is vastly overstated
and lacks any objective evidence to support the claim. But you know,
I think we’d be preaching to the choir. I’m not sure there are that
many people out there that still believe Dan Wilson is a productive
major league player. So why belabor the point?
Few teams get any kind of productivity from their reserve catcher. In
this instance, we’re just going with the flow, giving a veteran
millions of dollars because the other guys like having him around. I
have a hard time getting too worked up about Wilson’s spot on the
roster anymore; veteran backup catchers who have jobs because of their
character are everywhere, and the criteria for how to get that job at
the major league level isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
Derek: But — you just argued in the DH roundtable that we should get worked up
about the marginal difference between Ibanez and Jacobsen and not shrug
that off. Here we have the team committed to a catcher who can’t hit or
play defense that well, and it’s okay because everyone does it? That the
division is so close we can’t accept punting even one game a season.
No! I refuse to give up! You’ve persuaded me to argue against you!
I’m going to make the same argument I made in the DH piece — when teams
make lazy decisions like this, putting other priorities ahead of
winning, they should file for non-profit status and do something useful
like support animal shelters or child welfare or conservation or…
whatever. One of the things we constantly derided Gillick for was the
same kind of failure to look for every opportunity on the roster for
improvement, in the way the A’s do.
Say instead of Wilson the team played a good backup, someone like
Mirabelli, or even one of the interchangeable guys like Stinett. That’s
a game. Or figure that they find someone out of AAA, like Mike Rose, and
give him a shot.
Moreover, the problem I see is that as a tandem, there’s really no
point. Wilson’s become a no-hit, no-field catcher which doesn’t provide
an alternative to Olivo. There’s no reason Hargrove would pick one over
the other. I’d almost prefer the team play Rene Rivera if they’re going
to punt offense in their backup catcher, or put Ibanez back behind the
plate if they’re punting defense. At least have a backup that can do
something well besides look good and be a hometown favorite.
Jeff: As long as we’re using each other’s arguments to respond to each
other, Derek, you just argued in the right field thread that
we shouldn’t concern ourselves with whether Ichiro should play center
field because it just isn’t going to happen. I think it’s safe to
conclude that discarding Dan Wilson isn’t going to happen, either.
Personally, I’m on your side regarding the “take every advantage you
can find” philosophy, but it’s clear that the organization has
different priorities — priorities that, frankly, are far from
non-profit priorities. Having a backup that can’t do much but look
good and be a hometown favorite is part of the team’s nice-guy
marketing strategy. They would much rather, it seems, let a popular
player retire on his own terms than cut him loose when he is no longer
In my ideal world, the team would absolutely seek a superior, less
costly alternative to Dan Wilson. Like Dave, though, it’s pretty far
down the list of things that have me reaching for blood pressure
I do find a certain perverse appeal in the idea of sticking Ibanez
back behind the dish. Of course, if the team tanks and is out of it by
June, I also think they should bring up Wiki Gonzalez for the express
purpose of catching road games in place like Texas, leading outfield
wind sprints and carrying Adrian Beltre’s bags. Really test that
“laziest player in Major League Baseball” label.
Before the inevitable paeans to Dan Wilson’s game-calling and
pitcher-handling begin, I want to make clear that I’m open to the
possibility that such things exist. Before I consider a trait true,
though, I would like to see the trait demonstrated in some way, and
I’ve never seen satisfying evidence. If anybody has any such evidence,
I’d love to examine it, but I’ll starting holding my breath in
anticipation right after I grab those blood pressure meds.
Derek: Let me be entirely clear about my opinion on Ichiro! and the
The cost of having Ichiro is that you pay him a lot of money, and he
plays in right field. Consider it a contract clause, and then think:
would I rather have Ichiro! in right or no Ichiro! at all?
Then you make a decision about what’s best for the team. That’s the same
decision you make through the whole roster in the offseason, with
different variations. Do you want a good backup catcher, or a bad one?
Or even a not-so-bad one?
As to the team’s motivations — I understand that they have reasons
other than winning for making some of these decisions, and that having
Wilson return is an easy fallback, but my point isn’t that they’re a
non-profit, but that they’re making decisions that hurt their chances of
making the playoffs and winning a World Series. If they’re out rescuing
puppies or hiring good-looking players in the hopes that they’ll sell
more uniforms, they’re not running a baseball team — they’re like the
NASCAR teams that don’t want to win but are out there as billboards,
cheering when their car gets on camera while being lapped by the
eventual winner. Technically, sure, they’re racing. But that’s not
really what they’re doing.
While every team must make compromises like this, every decision the
Mariners make that takes them away from “putting the best possible team
on the field” should be met with howls and hurled rotten fruit (please,
do not hurl fruit of any kind).
As to the issue of retirement — I don’t think that’s important. You
might sell out Dan Wilson’s final game, but a farewell tour won’t draw
more people every game. And beloved figures are always welcome to come
back as broadcasters and public figures if they play out the end of
their careers elsewhere. In a situation like this, the team needs to cut
their losses on Wilson early, and if that means he has two bad seasons
in Pittsburgh to finish up his career, so be it.
Jason: As long as Dan Wilson’s truly the backup, I’ll be happy. I don’t want
him starting 99 games (his average the past four years) or even 75. While I
really like Miguel Olivo, as I mentioned earlier in this series, I
also fully acknowledge the fact that he might not be “the guy” at catcher
for the next five years. That said, I think you have to give him 120 or so
games behind the dish this season to prove otherwise, and that means a token
one or two starts a week for fan-favorite Wilson — nothing more.