Jennings: Yankees have no interest in George Kottaras

Via Chad Jennings: The Yankees have no interest in catcher George Kottaras, who was designated for assignment by the Athletics last week. The 29-year-old walk machine will earn just $1M next season, and it’s not even a guaranteed contract since he’s still in his arbitration years. I guess bringing Kottaras — a left-handed hitter — to camp to compete with Chris Stewart & Co. just made too much sense to actually happen. How silly of me.

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Mariners land Morse, designate Kottaras for assignment

According to multiple reports, the Mariners have re-acquired Mike Morse from the Nationals in a three-team trade that sends John Jaso to the Athletics and prospects to Washington. The Yankees had interest in Morse but apparently not enough to make a serious run at him. That’s a shame. Oakland designated catcher George Kottaras for assignment to clear room on the 40-man roster, and New York should definitely look to bring him in. Here’s the now-outdated Scouting The Market post I wrote about him last summer. Makes too much sense to actually happen.

The Yankees and the non-tender deadline

(Brian Garfinkel/Getty)

Teams have until midnight ET this Friday to offer contracts to their players with less than six full years of service, and those who don’t receive an offer will become free agents. It’s a non-tender deadline, when a team decides if a player’s production is worth his expected salary through arbitration. Most non-tendered players are nondescript, but there are always some useful pieces to be found as well. The Yankees signed Russell Martin after the Dodgers non-tendered him two years ago, for example.

The Bombers have a number of holes to fill this winter, more than any other offseason in recent years, plus they’re looking to find cheap future production to help get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. Since many non-tendered players (like Martin) offer multiple years of team control, the Yankees figure to mine this market hard once the deadline passes. With an assist from MLBTR’s Non-Tender Candidates List, let’s look at a few players who could be fits for New York should they hit free agency at the end of the week.

Nate Schierholtz, OF
Part of the trade that sent Hunter Pence to San Francisco, the 28-year-old Schierholtz hit .273/.319/.379 (90 wRC+) in just 73 plate appearances for the Phillies before fouling a pitch off his foot and breaking a toe. I wrote a Scouting The Market post on him during the season, so I’ll refer you to that and give you the short version here: he’s a platoon left-handed bat with strong defense and one of the game’s best outfield arms. MLBTR projects him to earn just $1.6M next year, but there have been rumblings Philadelphia may cut ties and look for veteran outfield help. Schierholtz would make a ton of sense for the Yankees as a cheap right field option, and as an added bonus he’d remain under team control in 2014.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Sean Rodriguez, UTIL
The Rays have a knack for digging up annoyingly useful and versatile players, and Yankees fans have seen how annoying, useful, and versatile the 27-year-old Rodriguez can be over the last three seasons. He’s not much of a hitter (career .225/.301/.356, 84 wRC+), but the right-handed swinger can handle lefties (career .252/.362/.389, 113 wRC+), offer some speed, and play average or better defense at the three non-first base infield spots. He’s even dabbled at first and in all three outfield spots as well with Tampa.

The Yankees are said to be seeking a utility man capable of playing short and third a combined 100 times next year, basically someone better than Jayson Nix, and Rodriguez fits the bill. He is projected to earn $1.2M next season and remains under team control through 2015, though he fell out of favor with the Rays a bit this year and wound up spending a few weeks in Triple-A. I think they’ll be able to find a taker via trade before the non-tender deadline if they plan to cut ties, so this one is a bit of a pipe dream.

George Kottaras, C
Another guy I covered in a Scouting The Market post, Kottaras is a career .220/.320/.412 (97 wRC+) hitter and a three-true outcomes machine from the left side: career 20.9 K%, 13.1 BB%, and .193 ISO. Over the last three seasons, when the 29-year-old became a full-time big league backup, he’s produced a .217/.323/.417 (102 wRC+) line with 20.3 K%, 13.2 BB%, and .200 ISO. He’s a poor defender behind the plate but he has definite offensive value, especially for a catcher. Talks between the Yankees and Russell Martin are reportedly “heating up,” but they could still use Kottaras as a platoon mate even if Martin returns. MLBTR projects a $1.1M salary for next season, and Kottaras would remain under team control through 2014 as well.

Brian Wilson, RHP
Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson are getting all of the attention, but the 30-year-old Wilson is also coming off a season lost due to Tommy John surgery. He battled elbow problems last year and both his strikeout (8.84 K/9 and 22.2 K%) and walk (5.07 BB/9 and 12.8 BB%) rates declined considerably, but prior to that he was as good as any closer in the game. During the 2009-2010 seasons, Wilson pitched to a 2.27 ERA (2.35 FIP) with 10.78 K/9 (28.7 K%), 3.24 BB/9 (8.6 BB%), and 47.3% grounders in 147 innings. MLBTR projects him to earn a $8.5M in his third and final trip through arbitration, a hefty price for a reliever who hasn’t pitched in a year and been truly dominant in two years. If the Giants cut ties with their long-time closer (it seems likely), he could be a fit for the Yankees on a low-base salary, incentive-laden one-year pact. As an added bonus, he’d have to shave that stupid beard if he joined the Bombers.

* * *

The Yankees don’t have many (if any) non-tender candidates themselves. Casey McGehee was the obvious one but they cut ties with him last month. Eli Whiteside and David Herndon recently signed new contracts for 2013, so they won’t be non-tendered. Nix is the only other player in the team’s class of arbitration-eligible players who has a chance of being non-tendered, but his projected salary comes in at less than $1M. Plus it’s not like the Yankees are in a position to be giving away infield depth at the moment. I suppose there’s a chance Frankie Cervelli could be non-tendered, but again, not in a position to give away catching depth. On the other hand, the Yankees could look to add several pieces following Friday’s deadline.

Brewers designate George Kottaras for assignment

The Brewers designated backup catcher Gorge Kottaras today, clearing room on the roster for starter Jonathan Lucroy as he comes off the DL. Martin Maldonado played well enough in Lucroy’s absence to assume the backup job long-term.

The 29-year-old Kottaras posted a 122 wRC+ in 116 plate appearances for Milwaukee this year thanks to his gaudy 20.7% walk rate (!). I wrote more about him in a Scouting The Market piece earlier this month, so check that out for a full breakdown. The Yankees have the best record in baseball and therefore the lowest waiver priority, so they’re unlikely to get a chance to claim him. If they want Kottaras — and they should since he’s an upgrade over Chris Stewart and a left-handed hitter they could platoon with Russell Martin — they’ll have to swing a trade.

Scouting The Trade Market: George Kottaras

The Yankees have gotten no offense out of their catchers this season and it’s hard to think the glovework of Russell Martin and Chris Stewart have made up for the lack of production at the plate. An upgrade at the position should be on the trade deadline shopping list — though certainly not atop it — even though quality catching is hard to find. We’ve already looked at Ramon Hernandez of the Rockies, but now let’s look at the backstop of another non-contender: George Kottaras of the Brewers.

The 29-year-old Kottaras broke into the big leagues with the Red Sox back in 2008 — they acquired him from the Padres in 2006 in exchange for David Wells (!) — but moved on to Milwaukee via waivers a few days after the Yankees won the 2009 World Series. He’s been the club’s backup since then, first behind Gregg Zaun and now behind the (injured) Jonathan Lucroy. Youngster Martin Maldonado has done a solid job during Lucroy’s absence, meaning Kottaras could become trade bait if the 40-45 Brewers decided to sell in the coming weeks. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees…

The Pros

  • For one, Kottaras is a left-handed hitter and that’s rare for a catcher. He’s a .239/.330/.436 career hitter against right-handers in 460 big league plate appearances against them.
  • Kottaras excels at drawing walks, earning a free pass in 13.8% of his career plate appearances in the show. Over the last three seasons it’s a 14.8% walk rate. Kottaras doesn’t strikeout a ton despite all the deep counts, owning a 19.3% strikeout rate over the last three years.
  • It’s tough to quantify catcher defense, but Beyond The Box Score’s catcher defense rankings rated Kottaras as an above-average defender last season. Click through the full analysis.
  • Kottaras will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, he remains under team control through 2015. He’s making six figures this season after missing the Super Two cutoff by a few weeks.

The Cons

  • Kottaras struggles against lefties, with a career .178/.326/.308 line against southpaws in 133 plate appearances. It’s a small sample, but his minor league history backs it up. He’s a platoon hitter.
  • Despite the solid defensive ranking last year, Kottaras can not throw. He’s gunned down just 21 (!) of 128 attempted base-stealers in his big league career, an unfathomably bad 16.4%. For what it’s worth, the 2010 catcher defense rankings rated him as below average.
  • Kottaras is out of minor league options and can not be send down to Triple-A without first clearing waivers.

As bad as his numbers are overall, Russell Martin has handled southpaws well — .275/.383/.549 this year and .230/.337/.424 as a Yankee — and it makes sense to seek a platoon partner. It’s hard not to love Kottaras’ on-base ability and you dream about the short Yankee Stadium porch unlocking some power, though the inability to control the running game is a major issue. I mean, Jorge Posada threw runners out at a 21.8% clip during his defensive disaster years from 2008-2010. Kottaras is at 16.4% during his peak years. It’s a major concern.

Obviously the years of team control is desirable because the Yankees don’t really have a catcher beyond this season. Kottaras would allow them to let Martin walk as a free agent this winter before stepping in as the heavy side of a platoon with a youngster like Austin Romine. But again, that throwing is a problem that will get exposed in steal-happy AL East. I’m not exactly one to be hard on players who play below average defense, but there is a minimum standard here and I don’t think Kottaras meets it. He’s an ideal pickup on the offensive side of the ball, but unfortunately the game extends beyond the batter’s box.