Ryan Doumit -- ztil301/Flickr.com
There aren't enough above average catchers to go around in baseball, and contenders would often like to have good catchers contributing to their lineups.
Ryan Doumit is the Pirates' most valuable hitter, but he's not likely to play in a large number of games each season, and he's even less likely to play in a large number of games each season as he grows older.
This winter, Doumit is arbitration-eligible for the first time. He is under team control through the 2011 season, though reports say the Pirates have approached him regarding negotiations for a contract extension that would likely buy out his three arbitration seasons and one or two free agency years. He'll be 28 years old by Opening Day.
Doumit has a reputation for being an injury prone player at a physically demanding position. The 431 at-bats he took in 2008 were second most in his career, trailing only his 458 AB as a 22-year-old in the Carolina League in 2003.
By comparison, Jorge Posada took no fewer than 449 at-bats between ages 28 and 32 (the likely duration of a Doumit contract extension). He averaged 486 at-bats and 142.2 games per season while also appearing in rest games at first base and designated hitter.
More obscurely, Rick Wilkins, the catcher in baseball history most similar to Ryan Doumit through age 27, averaged 175 at-bats and 59.8 games played per season between ages 28 and 32. Terry Steinbach, the second most comparable catcher, averaged 406.2 at-bats and 115.6 games during the same period of time for the Oakland A's, also resting at first base and DH.
The Pirates aren't likely to be competitive while Doumit is in his late twenties, but could be rounding a corner as he turns 30 in 2011. Unfortunately, we could predict that Doumit's best seasons would have been contributed to losing Pirate teams, and that by 30 (and certainly 32) his stats would be trending downward.
Isn't it time to sell high?
At Baseball-Reference's Stat of the Day blog, a post was recently made to support the assertion that catchers' offensive contributions have been steadily in decline. In 1956, catchers out-hit third basemen, second basemen and shortstops (as measured by OPS+). Half a century later, catchers were the lightest-hitting players on the diamond. In 2008, catchers as a whole put up an OPS+ of 91. A power-hitting catcher is a valuable commodity.
Doumit's 128 OPS+ from 2008 ranked third among players who appeared as catchers in 100 games. (Note also that no catcher over age 28 put up an OPS+ above 100 while meeting the games played criteria.) His 110 OPS+ from 2007 profiled well as an average corner outfielder or above average DH. It's clear that if he can stay healthy he'll be productive, and he'll contribute much more offensively than an average catcher would. He could be the puzzle piece that turns a very good team into a great one.
It would seem as if an American League team which believes Doumit's 2007-2008 performances are repeatable and which plans to contend in 2009-2010 could benefit from his catching 100 or so games and playing first base or serving as a designated hitter in 30-40 more. If such a team exists and is willing to part with a legitimate prospect -- similar to how Xavier Nady brought Jose Tabata as a return -- then the Pirates should trade Ryan Doumit.
I don't trust that Doumit will be producing at a high level in 2011 and beyond, and all decisions made should be with the health of the franchise in the future in mind.
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