Memo to Mike Scioscia, if you want to do your part and help this Vernon Wells trade look like something less than a total disaster, then you have absolutely no choice but to give significant playing time to Hank Conger and NOT Jeff Mathis. We all know you have an inexplicable and unhealthy mancruch on Mathis, but making Conger your primary catcher is not only a good idea, but a moral imperative. Don't believe me? Allow me to explain...
Ready or not, Hank, your time is now... or at least it should be.
Lost in the hysteria over the acquisition of Vernon Wells' horrid contract is that the Angels also managed to create a self-inflicted wound for their already pitiful lineup by trading away Mike Napoli, the yin to Jeff Mathis' Mendoza Line yang at catcher. In other words, the Angels have upgraded their offensive output in left field but did so while downgrading their offensive output from the catching position by an equal or greater amount. Sure, Wells could (emphasis on "could") be a great addition to the middle of the Angel order, but any move that directly results in Jeff "The Worst Hitter in Baseball EVER" Mathis getting substantially more at-bats can't ever be viewed as offensive progress.
However, if Mike Scioscia can simply get over himself and his ridiculously high standards for the catcher position, the Angels actually could salvage this deal, but only if Sosh relents and lets Hank Conger take over all the catcher at-bats that Mike Napoli just vacated. And really, there is no reason why he shouldn't. Napoli was a very talented hitter who had a lot of defensive warts as a catcher. Conger, while unproven, pretty much fits the exact same description as Naps. Hank isn't likely to display the same kind of power and productivity that Napoli displayed, at least not this year, but his work with the bat is still his main attraction while his defensive shortcomings, just like Napoli, are what might hold him back. Even at the tender age of 23, Conger already projects to easily outperform Jeff Mathis at the plate. The ZiPS system projects Conger to turn in a .261/.331/.381 slash line while Bill James' system predicts a similar but slighly better .271/.344/.398 performance. That hardly is anything to get excited about, but at least it shows that Conger should be able to handle his own at the plate this season, unlike Jeff Mathis who continues is showing no signs of being anything other than an offensive abomination.
Nothing against Bobby Wilson, but it seems like Conger is the ideal platoon mate for Mathis should Scioscia want to continue employing an offense/defense partnership at the backstop. So why do I get the sinking sensation that Hank is going to be spending at least the first part of the 2011 campaign sporting a Salt Lake Bees uniform?
I'll answer my own question, because Mike Scioscia is retarded for catcher defense and he thinks that Jeff Mathis is a golden god with a catcher's mitt. And he believes this so ardently and deeply that he is going to use the loss of Napoli's excellent power bat to justify leaning heavily on Jeff Mathis since Conger "only" profiles as an average hitter right now. He'll undoubtedly nitpick Conger's every defensive flaw (be they real or imagined) in Spring Training until he browbeats Tony Reagins into optioning Hank back to the minors for the youngster to keep refining his receiving skills. What Scioscia won't be thinking about though is that by demoting Conger, he is essentially guaranteeing that his everyday lineup include at least one automatic out (maybe two if Bourjos doesn't progress). Is Wells really so good that he can make up that? Methinks not, methinks it ain't even that close either.
And that is the larger point here, the Wells trade was made with the specific intention of breathing new life into an anemic offensive attack. But if my prognostication comes to pass and Jeff Mathis winds up catching 120+ games, all the Angels are doing is moving around their offensive issues, confining them to one specific roster spot. It is kind of like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Sure, left field looks a lot better, but the big iceberg-shaped hole in the hull in the catcher's slot is still going to bring the ship down if it continues to go unattended.
I'm not even saying that Sosh needs to just hand the keys to the catcher's box over to Conger and let him catch 140 games in 2011, but 80 or so games seems pretty fair to me. Half of a black hole is a lot better than a total one for sure. Plus with the Angels once again carrying three catchers, it gives Sosh the option to pinch-hit for Mathis during his starts since he can replace Mathis with a quality hitter and then sub in either Conger or Wilson and still have the other one waiting on the bench in case of an injury.
Really, it almost makes too much sense for the Angels to hitch their wagon to Conger, and maybe that is why I am worried that they won't, but if they want the Vernon Wells trade to have the desired impact on the offense, they simply have to give playing time to Conger, even if it means Mike Scioscia swallowing his catcher's pride.