Okay, this is going to be a tricky one. For the past couple weeks, we've been looking back at the organizational droughts for teams at various positions. Specifically, we've been looking for the last time each team developed a star at each position. Any definition of "star" is going to be arbitrary, and this isn't an exception. The goal is to find players who had a four-win season (by Baseball-Reference.com's WAR metric) for the team that drafted or signed them as an amateur.
It's been working well enough to this point. But catchers are weird. Here are some graphs about how catchers are weird:
Does that mean we're undervaluing catchers? That an exceptionally valuable catcher is worth even more than we think? Ha ha, I have no idea. You tell me, Poindexter. I make knock-knock jokes here. But doesn't it seem odd that there are seven positions that are roughly even throughout baseball history, and there's one that trails behind with about half as many success stories?
Maybe catchers just don't last long enough. Maybe catchers don't play enough. Maybe if catchers could play 160 games like a first baseman or right fielder, they would accrue more WAR in a given season. There's probably a really good reason that I'm not thinking of. Except whatever the answer is, it doesn't help us for the purposes of this exercise because we're looking for an easily identifiable benchmark for an All-Star-type season. Four wins has worked well to this point, but there just aren't as many four-win catchers. Perhaps it would make sense to lower the standard?
You'll see why, but we're sticking with the four-win standard. This means there are going to be a lot of teams in the "nope" category -- almost a third of the teams -- but there's an "honorable mention" category for the completionists.
With that out of the way, to the catchers!
Still with the team
Braves - Brian McCann (5.5 wins above replacement in 2008)
Diamondbacks - Miguel Montero (4.1, 2011)
Tigers - Alex Avila (5.2, 2011)
Orioles - Matt Wieters (5.1, 2011)
Twins - Joe Mauer (4.4, 2012)
Phillies - Carlos Ruiz (4.5, 2012)
Giants - Buster Posey (7.4, 2012)
Cardinals - Yadier Molina (6.9, 2012)
We've already noted that almost a third of the teams have never developed a four-win catcher in franchise history. Well, close to that many teams have a four-win catcher who's still with the team. And other than arguably Brian McCann, it's not like any of those players are great bets to slow down any time soon.
Of course, have you noticed what Alex Avila's doing in Detroit this year? It's not pretty. Same goes for Miguel Montero and Carlos Ruiz. Could be a sample-size thing. Probably is just a sample-size thing. Or it could be related to that more pernicious idea of catchers not lasting all that long.
This list reminds me of the old saying: "Great catchers are either drafted 1st, 5th, 64th, or 163rd. Or they're signed as international free agents." And while we're looking at what those catchers up there aren't doing, notice what Yadier Molina is doing. It's about time the Cardinals had a homegrown hitter exceed expectations.
Indians - Victor Martinez (4.3, 2007)
Yankees - Jorge Posada (5.4, 2007)
Dodgers - Russell Martin (4.0, 2008)
The Indians replaced Martinez with Carlos Santana, which was a mighty neat sleight-of-hand trick, and they ended up trading Martinez for Justin Masterson, who is apparently really good now. That's not the kind of story you're going to find with a lot of these teams. The Padres traded Sandy Alomar for the worst year of Joe Carter's career, and they let Benito Santiago go to the Marlins as a free agent when he was 27, for example.
Posada was drafted 646th overall in 1990, the only one of the five major leaguers from the 24th round to have a positive WAR. Two rounds earlier, the Yankees took Andy Pettitte. Only two teams in the first round of the '90 draft got more value from their first-round picks than the Yankees did with their 22nd- and 24th-rounders: the Braves with Chipper Jones, and the Orioles with Mike Mussina, who … wait, no, the Yankees also got half of Mussina's career value, too.
Dammit, Yankees. Stop that.
Pirates - Jason Kendall (4.4, 2003)
We're getting far enough from Jason Kendall's second career as an offensive-sucking black hole that we can appreciate his first career as one of the very best players in the game. Imagine a 24-year-old catcher with a .400 on-base percentage, 25-steal speed, and excellent defense. It's almost unheard of.
Or, to put it another way, Kendall is #17 all time on the catcher WAR list, ahead of Lance Parrish, Roy Campanella, Mike Scioscia, and Roger Bresnahan. There are worse catchers in the Hall of Fame.
Reds - Johnny Bench (5.6, 1979)
Nationals - Gary Carter (7.4, 1984)
Red Sox - Rich Gedman (5.4, 1985)
Astros - Craig Biggio (4.4, 1991)
Athletics - Terry Steinbach, 4.0, 1992)
Cubs - Rick Wilkins (6.6, 1993)
Mets - Todd Hundley (5.0, 1996)
Marlins - Charles Johnson (4.4, 1997)
Rangers - Ivan Rodriguez (5.0, 2001)
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, we have some inner-circle members here, with Bench and Carter. Biggio will be in once the writers stop being weird. Pudge Rodriguez, too, once the writers stop being weird and vindictive.
Rick Wilkins had one of the game's greatest fluke seasons in history. He hit 30 homers in '93 and then cracked double digits once more in his career. He played with Matt Nokes on the 2002 Joliet Jackhammers of the Northern League, which interests exactly one person in the world. But since that one person is writing this article, it gets included.
Gedman wasn't drafted. There were 81 catchers drafted in 1977. Only two of them had a long career as a productive starter: Terry Kennedy and Brian Harper. But the really important part was that a catcher named Drungo Hazewood was drafted, and Gedman was not.
Drungo Hazewood was 0-for-5 in his major-league career, scoring a run, but never reaching base on his own.
That' s a pretty lengthy list, and it made wonder if the criteria was too harsh. So here's the honorable mention list, in which the standards were lowered to three wins.
Blue Jays - Pat Borders (3.0, 1990)
White Sox - Ron Karkovice (3.2, 1993)
Mariners - Dave Valle (3.4, 1993)
Angels - Mike Napoli (3.0, 2009)
Rockies - Chris Ianetta (3.3, 2011)
Padres - Nick Hundley (3.2, 2011)
Royals - Salvador Perez (3.0, 2012)
Brewers - Jonathan Lucroy (3.6, 2012)
You can see why I was a little leery of including these players under the "star" heading. And if I dropped the standard to three wins, players like Ryan Doumit and Brian Schneider suddenly become representatives, and that didn't feel right. I was willing to accept Darwin Barney and Cliff Pennington, but a line must be drawn somewhere. The Brian Schneider Line it is.
No, really, nope
The Rays are the only team without a homegrown three-win catcher, though they came close with Toby Hall.
Toby? Toby Hall. Toby Hall? Toby Hall. Toby Harrah? ******* Toby Gardenhire. I got Yadier Molina's big WAR coming out of my left ear, and Toby Hall … I don't know what … coming out of my right.
(Which is to say, even in the new era of Rays management, they haven't developed a catching prospect worth a whole lot. That's probably a pretty good indication of how tough it really is.)