To be clear, backing up one of the greatest catchers in the game is not an easy task. There are limited opportunities and it requires various means of practice to try and keep your skills game ready. Not to mention the level of comparison you’re up against. With all of the above, Tony Cruz has had the support of both his teammates and Mike Matheny.
“Tony has done an incredible job, right down through the push in September,” praised Matheny as recently as a press conference during the NLDS. “We couldn’t have asked Tony to do any more than what he did, offensively. On the defensive side and serving in a leadership role for our staff, he has really taken advantage of the apprenticeship he’s had over the last several years with Yadier Molina.”
But Cruz is arbitration-eligible for the second time and is coming off a season where he hit .204 with a pair of home runs and 11 RBIs. While his manager and the Cardinals pitching staff has sung his praises, there is also the balance of seeking for ways to improve the offense and bench–especially if the team may finally employ a plan to provide more rest of Molina.
Free agency begins at 12:01 am EST this Saturday, November 7th. Teams are not required to tender a contract offer to arbitration-eligible players until December 2nd. This allows for nearly a month for the St. Louis Cardinals to consider and negotiate with other prospective back-up catchers.
Here’s how Cruz compares with a few of the other free agent catchers on the market:
- Tony Cruz, turns 30 in August…69 games-115 PA…hit .204 w 2 HR/11 RBI…$775,000
- Alex Avila, turns 29 in January…67 games-219 PA…hit .191 w 4 HR/13 RBI…$5.4 mil
- Chris Ianetta, turns 33 in April…92 games-317 PA…hit .188 w 10 HR/34 RBI…$5.5 mil
- Dioner Navarro, turns 32 in February…54 games-192 PA…hit .246 w 5 HR/20 RBI…$4 mil
- Jordan Pacheco, turns 30 in January…29 games-78 PA…hit .242 w 2 HR/8 RBI…$900,000
- Brayan Pena, turns 34 in January…108 games/367 PA…hit .273 w 0 HR/18 RBI…$1.9 mil
- Geovany Soto, turns 33 in January…78 games/210 PA…hit .219 w 9 HR/21 RBI…$1.5 mil
- Matt Wieters, turns 30 in May…75 games/282 PA…hit .267 w 8 HR/25 RBI…$8.3 mil
Former Cardinals catcher A.J. Pierzynski is also a free agent. The soon-to-be 39 year old, hit .300 with 9 HRs and drove in 49 runs for Atlanta last season in playing 113 games with 436 plate appearances and had a $2 million salary.
Some of the above numbers provide an argument for more power or offense off the bench. There is also the counter that with more regular playing time, Cruz could put up more of those numbers himself.
In the 22 games he played from September 2nd through October 4th, Cruz hit .237 with a homer and six runs batted in. In 2014, there were three complete games in June he caught consecutively (.300, 3-10) but there was also a 13-game stretch in July-August where he hit only .200 (8-40) in regular playing time which led to the acquisition of A.J. Pierzynski.
Defensively, financially, and in terms of chemistry Tony Cruz remains a fit with the St. Louis Cardinals. Offensively, the team will have some time to determine what the best course may be.
photo credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports, Bill Greenblatt/UPI