The countdown to Opening Day is less than three months away.
Off the field, there have been a number of deals and signings, bringing power players such as Randy Johnson, Troy Percival and Adrian Beltre to new locales. With more than a month to go before pitchers and catchers descend upon Florida and Arizona training sites, it would be premature to compile rankings before the rest of the power players like Beltran and company ink new deals.
Therefore, today I begin a long, strange trip around the horn with a look at some fun numbers from behind the plate. I'll look into the splits and histories of these all-important field generals who, save a few notable exceptions, generally slump to the later rounds on draft day.
Unfortunately, the ability to call a good game doesn't translate directly to their numbers in fantasy baseball, although you can tip your cap for their impact on pitching staffs.
I'll begin in the AL East with several of the standout performers.
Javy Lopez, Bal
At the age of 33, Lopez caught as many games last year as any other in his career. After a power surge in 2003, Lopez regressed at the plate and hit only 23 home runs. And it's a good thing that he doesn't play at Wrigley Field, as he struggles during the day. His batting average last year was 71 points lower than at night, hitting only six home runs in 197 at-bats.
Jason Varitek, Bos
Varitek was wise to stay with the Sox. Not only will the Red Sox be in the hunt for another title, but Fenway Park is home sweet home for the 30-year-old catcher. Through seven seasons, Varitek's home batting average is 55 points higher than his road exploits (.299 to .244).
Jorge Posada, NYY
While personnel at other positions shifts in the Bronx fairly regularly, Posada is a fixture behind the plate. For eight straight years, Posada has caught 99 or more games. He has also slugged 20 or more home runs for five straight years.
Toby Hall, TB
Something just didn't click for Hall in the second half of the 2004 campaign. In 57 games after the break, Hall hit an anemic .221. Give him credit – at least he makes contact. Hall struck out once in about every 10 at bats.
Guillermo Quiroz, Tor
Quiroz displays an Ivan Rodriguez-like ability to throw out would-be base stealers. He gunned down 44 percent of opposing base-runners in Double-A in 2003. Quiroz made the leap to the big leagues in 2004, getting the September call-up and appearing in 17 games. He managed only six RBIs in those appearances, but figures to be a big part of the 2005 Blue Jays.
A.J. Pierzynski, CWS
The recently signed Pierzynski slides into the starting role and will let Jamie Burke and Ben Davis battle for relief starts. Pierzynski brings a solid bat and glove to the Sox lineup. In 2003, he hit 11 home runs and drove in 74 runs for the Twins. The Sox are counting on that type of production in ‘05.
Victor Martinez, Cle
One of the young guns in Cleveland, Martinez got off to a strong start in the spring and never looked back. The only knock on Martinez's 23-HR, 108-RBIs season was that he hit only .150 indoors (10 games). In six games against the rival Twins at the Metrodome, Martinez went 2-for-23.
Ivan Rodriguez, Det
The always formidable Rodriguez put up big numbers on the whole for the 2004 season, but his productivity dropped off markedly in the second half. His batting average was a whopping 85 points lower and he drove in only 27 runs.
John Buck, KC
The young Buck (sorry, had to do it – he's 24) made his first appearance in late June and appeared in 71 games over the course of the campaign. He caught on to big-league pitching in the August and September, hitting 12 home runs and driving in 29. That's a solid stretch which projects nicely for 2005.
Joe Mauer, Min
Mauer whet our appetites early last season, but couldn't stay on the field and missed the entire second half. Mauer slugged 15 extra-base hits in 107 at-bats and knocked in 17 runs. The scary thing is that Mauer will turn only 22 a couple weeks into the season.
Bengie Molina, Ana
The Flying Molinas continue to man the catcher position for Anaheim. Bengie is a Gold Glove catcher and a better power hitter than brother Jose. As one would expect, his batting average dips substantially in the dog days of summer (28 points lower in the second half), and he cedes starts to Jose. Despite missing a third of the Angels' games in 2004, Bengie ranked 20th in home runs (10) and 17th in RBIs (54) for catchers.
Jason Kendall, Oak
Kendall takes over behind the plate for the new-look Oakland A's. He brings his .306 lifetime average (13th highest among active players) and double-digit steals in seven of the last eight seasons to the Bay Area. He'll love slapping doubles to the gap in Oakland.
Miguel Olivo, Sea
Like Kendall, Olivo can steal a base. Unlike Kendall, he can also hit for some power. Olivo hit 13 home runs last season, but was devastated following a trade to Seattle. He hit a miserable .200 with an OBP of just .260.
Rod Barajas, Tex
Barajas had a power surge in the explosive Texas lineup, cranking out 15 dingers in 108 games. His .249 batting average was the highest of his career (OK, he hit .250 in 16 at-bats in 1999). Barajas ranked 10th in home runs among catchers in 2004. His previous career high was three.
Johnny Estrada, Atl
Estrada enjoyed a breakout season in Atlanta in 2004. His .314 average ranked fourth among every-day catchers. However, there was a significant drop-off in his production at Turner Field. His batting average was a full 77 points lower at home last season.
Paul Lo Duca, Fla
Lo Duca missed the friendly confines of Dodger Stadium, hitting 43 points lower upon moving to Miami. He also should look to force a trade to the Cubs or petition for more day games. His batting average at night was 107 points lower than during the day.
Mike Piazza, NYM
The oft-injured Piazza dropped off the map after taunting owners with a great first half. He hit only four home runs in 145 second-half at-bats and his batting average was a full 97 points lower. Piazza needs 22 home runs in 2005 to join the 400 club. He should be making phone calls to Carlos Beltran.
Mike Lieberthal, Phi
Lieberthal slugged 17 home runs last year, good for eighth among catchers. It was his highest total since 1999.
Brian Schneider, Was
Schneider played in a career-high 135 games last season and hit 12 home runs. He hit .302 in 36 day games, watching his average dip to .241 at night.
Michael Barrett, ChC
Barrett slugged a career-high 16 home runs in 2004. He struggled at the plate at Wrigley, hitting .258 in 70 games. He hit a robust .321 on the road.
Jason LaRue, Cin
LaRue and his home digs in Cincinnati did not agree. He played an equal number of games at home and on the road (57), but achieved greater marks in each of the standard fantasy categories away from home.
Brad Ausmus, Hou
Ausmus continues the string of catchers who experienced difficulties at home in '04. He drove in a feeble nine RBIs at Minute Maid Park and his batting average was 69 points lower than on the road.
Damian Miller, Mil
Miller returns to the National League after a one-year stint in Oakland. The 35-year-old catcher achieved a career high with 58 RBIs and hit for his highest average (.272) since 2000.
Benito Santiago, Pit
The cagey veteran Santiago brings his game to Pittsburgh after an injury-shortened 2004 campaign. He has hit .375 in seven games at PNC Park (12 for 32). He'll be looking to bring along young catcher J.R. House.
Yadier Molina, StL
The youngest Molina broke into the big leagues, appearing in 51 games. His .267 batting average placed him nine points above the NL average. Mike Matheny's departure will open more opportunities for the youngster.
Koyie Hill and Chris Snyder, Ari
Hill hit .250 in 13 games prior to fracturing his right ankle. At Triple-A Las Vegas, Hill hit .314 with 21 extra-base hits. Snyder will complete the platoon and slugged five home runs in 29 games last season. Robbie Hammock will also factor into the equation.
J.D. Closser, Col
Closser adjusted well to MLB pitching, hitting .319 in 36 games. The switch-hitting catcher is one to watch, as he showed a lot of pop in the minors and will love the Rocky Mountain air. Closser slugged 40 or more extra-base hits each year from 2001 to 2003.
David Ross, LA
Ross caught 70 games during the 2004 season and failed to generate much of a spark. He hit a feeble .170 with five home runs.
Ramon Hernandez, SD
Hernandez slugged 18 bombs after shifting down the coast to San Diego. His productivity increased in the second half, as he improved his batting average, homers and RBIs after the break. Hernandez experienced a power surge at night, hitting 14 home runs after dark.
Mike Matheny, SF
Matheny leaves the NL champion Cardinals for another perennial playoff team in San Francisco. His main task will be to guide the young Giants staff and he barely factors in on fantasy draft day. With runners in scoring position for the loaded Cardinals lineup, Matheny hit just .226.