This has been quite the rollercoaster of a season so far, we've experienced some of the lowest lows this team has ever went through in the first months of the season, yet at the same time there have been some pretty good highs. While there have been many things going wrong with this team early on that managed to sort themselves out fairly quickly, such as the bullpen issues and Trumbo's everyday position problem among others there has been one glaring issue with this team that they haven't been able to get a handle on. The Angels starting catcher situation has been a nagging problem for years, first with the whole
Mathis/Napoli fiasco then Hank Conger falling far short of expectations in his first year in the bigs. Many thought that this problem would mend itself with the arrival of new catcher Chris Ianetta and the power/patience package he brought to the team. His low career batting average hides his ability to get on base at a relatively strong rate. He managed to get off to a slow start this season, and after his wrist injury it became apparent that the Angels were pathetically low on options at the backstop.
But what about Hank Conger?
While he has been seen as the catcher of the future for the Angels for a little while his struggles to adapt to the majors as well as his susceptibility to injury have put a fog over his future with the ball club. Right now it seems to me that his future could go either way, he could end up playing backup to Chris Ianetta near the end of the season if not next season, or he could be playing catcher for some other ball club. The Angels seem willing to give him another shot at cracking the big league club permanently, though it Ianetta has trouble bouncing back from his wrist injury he could end up making a solid trade piece to bring a more viable option back home. However, it would be FAR easier for the Angels to explore free agent options than scour the trade market for a good fit.
After this season there will be quite a pool of catcher to pick from, the cream of the crop being Mike Napoli, A.J Pierzynski, Russell Martin, Ryan Doumit, and Chris Iannetta of course. If the Angels choose to not offer Iannetta a contract extension after he comes back from surgery based on his performance then the chances are they will explore the other more viable options before coming back to him. Now let's think about this rationally for a minute, and by rationally I mean get Mike Napoli out of your head. No way in hell he's going to come back to Anaheim, not after the many public feuds he had with Mike Scioscia regarding his playing time and his handling as a catcher. He's made it clear he did not enjoy his time playing with the Angels and that just has to let you know that he does not intend on even entertaining any serious offers from this team in the offseason, if he does have the urge to come back to LA it's going to be with the Dodgers (who I wouldn't be surprised to make a serious going at him). After Napoli you can scratch off A.J Pierzynski, he's easily one of the most hated players by the Angels fan base after the 2005 ALCS. I have to think that it's a mutual acceptance that this fan base does not want him, and he does not want this fan base. Time to look at some serious options for catcher.
The Angels were rumored to be ready to make a go at catcher Miguel Montero of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but with his recent contract extension that option is now gone. Luckily for them it seems like the Atlanta Braves recent lagging on an extension with All-Star catcher Brian McCann might lead to a breakdown in extension talks, but sadly for the Halos that means he will command HUGE money on the open market, if the Braves don't pick up his 2013 option. The days of reasonable contracts are long gone, the Angels are going to have to overpay big time if they want to land McCann, a catcher who in different times might earn a $50-60 million dollar contract over 4-5 years, but now it'll probably take a five-year contract worth close to if not over $70 million to beat out the other teams who want him. Based off the Angels last offseason spurge it's unlikely they're going to go overboard with another contract so quickly, though it did really seem like they would make a strong push for Montero, another catcher who would have commanded big free agent money, so this one could be up in the air. Contract offer? Plausible, though they'll more likely to try and find a cheaper yet effective option on the side.
Realistically the Angels will most likely pursue either Martin, Doumit, or Ianetta if it comes to it. I assume that once the Angels don't extend Ianetta they won't work so hard to sign him in the offseason. This leaves Martin and Doumit, and while I could see Martin wanting to return to LA his offensive prowess has been waning since him arrival in the AL, though his power numbers did see a spike last season. If the Angels want to take a gamble and see if Martin could return to his slugging form they could drop a modest multi-year contract offer on him, but the Angels need steady offense out of their catching, something they haven’t seen in too many years. In that case they'll probably want to go with Ryan Doumit, a guy who won't wow you with the bat but can guarantee reasonableproduction behind the plate, though his lacking defense and consistent injury issues might make him a problem as well.
It looks like the free agent market for the Angels offers up quite a versatile pool of catchers to pick from; they could probably do ok at the worst for themselves if they pick up any of these options. My two cents? Let Ianetta play himself into a contract extension when he returns, and if he can't (because the Angels WILL extend him if he earns it) go big for McCann or settle for Martin. I don't see any sense in letting Ianetta hit the open market and then sign him as a free agent when they could save money by extending him.
Trade wise I don't see very many viable options for the Angels to pursue, unless somehow Ned Colleti gets hold of the Indians GM job, then the Angels could land Carlos Santana for Vernon Wells straight up. Who knows though, Dipoto has proven to be an extremely shrewd GM when it comes to trading, especially with his Frieri trade, which has proven to be the best trade by the Angels in an extremely long time. If this were the Tony Reagins era still I would be panicking over the possible moves Reagins could botch, but with Dipoto I know that the Angels are in the best of hands.
Leave it to him to put our catching duties in the most capable of hands.