St. Louis Cardinals Backup Catchers in the Matheny/Molina Era: Setting The Bar Low For 2012

Few positions in Major League baseball have been as stable over the last decade as the role of starting catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Their backups are a whole other story.

Mike Matheny joined the St. Louis Cardinals before the 2000 season and stuck around through 2004, bringing great stability and defensive prowess behind the plate for St. Louis. He handed the reins of the pitching staff over to his understudy, Yadier Molina, in 2005, and the rocket-armed, finally decent-hitting Molina has been there ever since. Employing two Gold Glove winning all-stars at starting catcher has allowed the team to hide what is often refereed to as their 25th man at backup catcher. And man, have they sucked.

(Note: Almost all back up catchers suck. That's why they're backups. Just go with it.)

Since 2000, the team has employed such C2's as Mike DiFelice, Einar Diaz, Gary Bennett, Jason LaRue (Gary Bennett's non-union equivalent), and most recently, Leaping Gerald Laird. Yes, all of these men saw legitimate playing time in the Major Leagues.

This is not even taking into the equation the backups to the backstop's backup, the lowly third catcher. Such mighty figures as Rick Wilkins, Keith McDonald, Chris Widger, Cody McKay, Matt Pagnozzi, Mark Johnson, and THE Kelly Stinnett have performed dutifully terribly when the primary backup either had to start or went down. You may not have even known these people had ever existed, let alone played for the Cardinals.

Such is life for the backup catchers in the Matheny/Molina era.

Previously, the Cardinals have preferred to bring in somewhat-glove/no-hit veterans for a around a million dollars a season to spell the starter once a week or so. Heading into SPRING TRAINING 2012: OZZIE'S REVENGE, the team has opted to have two long-time farmhands and occasional Major League backups, Tony Cruz and Bryan Anderson, compete for a spot on the bench behind Molina. The previous Tony La Russa/Dave Duncan regime greatly preferred Cruz over Anderson (La Russa even gave Cruz extra PA's by starting him, bizarrely, in right field once.) However, Matheny, the newly installed manager, often praised Anderson's catching ability while working as a roving instructor (or something) for the team.

Who has the leg up in the competition is anyone's guess, but the truth of the matter is once the winner makes the club, he can pretty much stink and nobody will notice. They'll be replacing Laird, he of the .660 OPS as a Redbird, who replaced LaRue, who had a .626 OPS before he was forced into retirement after being kicked in the face, just like former ballplayers Cal Ripken Jr., and Billy Joel.

Before LaRue, there was Bennett (.613 OPS, but one awesome weekend), and before him Diaz (.525), and in 2004 it was Molina (.684) behind Matheny.

In the last twelve seasons, backup catchers have made 1,952 plate appearances and have hit for a line of .230/.272/.330 for an OPS of .602. The have basically employed the 39-year-old version of Ivan Rodriguez for over a decade now.

Cruz has a minor league career OPS of .733 and hit a .672 OPS in 72 MLB PA's last season. He is a traditional backup catcher in most every way, with the exception being that he is only 25 years old.

Anderson's minor league career adds up to a .779 OPS and he put up a .658 OPS in 35 MLB PA's in 2010. Once a quasi-hot prospect, He has spent now seven seasons in the minors and has seemed to plateau since his breakout season as a 21 year old in AA and AAA. Amazingly, he too is only 25 years old.

For someone making the league minimum, either player will make for a fine 33-year-old Brian Roberts. And I swear to Felix Jose that if I ever see Einar Diaz in a Cardinals uniform again I'll just puke.

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