For Better, For Worse: Catching up

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Catchers are a rare breed. I mean that literally -- no position has less depth than catcher. It's a top-heavy group, with Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez and Brian McCann the cream of the crop. All three of them have overcome injuries to return as good as ever, or in Mauer's case, better than ever. Mauer was hurt in spring training and fell in fantasy drafts, below where Geovany Soto and Russell Martin were selected. Soto and Martin have combined to hit .237 with 6 HR and 40 RBI in 395 at bats. Mauer has hit .407 with 14 HR and 42 RBI in 172 at bats. If you waited and took Mauer later in the draft, your faith has been rewarded.

Thin as it is, the depth at catcher is artificially enhanced by the presence of two non-catchers. In most leagues both Brandon Inge (16 HR) and Pablo Sandoval (.336) get catcher position eligibility. Sandoval has caught three times in 2009 and Inge hasn't caught at all. Taints? Absolutely! But, you would be crazy not to start them at catcher over a Chris Ianetta or Jason Varitek.

The lack of catching depth means the waiver wire is picked over. Decent free agents are hard to find -- but not impossible. Let's see who might be lurking on the wire. Those with some upside are for better. Those with little chance to contribute for the rest of 2009 are for worse.

Miguel Olivo, C, Royals: Olivo is a hot hitter with 6 HR, and a .988 OPS in the month of June. Olivo already has 10 homers, which puts him on pace to hit 29. Olivo won't hit for average (.253) and doesn't walk (only 2 BB in 162 AB). Nevertheless at a position where expectations are lower, his power is first-rate. Only Mauer and Martinez have more homers at catcher. Olivo is available in about 90% of leagues.

A.J. Pierzynski, C, White Sox: The 32-year old is having another solid season at the plate: a .289 average with 7 HR. Pierzynski is having a much better season than either Soto or Martin and somehow is still available in half of leagues.

Ryan Doumit, C, Pirates (DL): Doumit is rehabbing from wrist surgery and working towards a mid-July return. He hit .318 last year with 15 HR. If Doumit is 80% of what he was last year, he will be better than half the catchers in your fantasy league. Doumit is worth stashing on a DL-spot and is available in about half of all leagues.

Mike Napoli, C, Angels: Napoli's average has improved in each of his four major league seasons: from .228 to .247 to .273 to this year's .285. He's always had power and walks a lot. Napoli's lifetime OBP is .361 and his lifetime OPS is .855. The one knock, from a fantasy perspective, is Napoli loses too many at bats to the underwhelming Jeff Mathis. If Napoli's defense were better, he would play more consistently. Napoli is available in 20% of leagues.

Ryan Hanigan, C, Reds: Last week I loved Hanigan as a free agent pickup. What's not to like about a .325 hitting catcher with an .808 OPS? Hanigan got a chance to play when Joey Votto went on the DL a month ago. Regular catcher Ramon Hernandez slid over to first base which allowed Hanigan to start. Unfortunately for Hanigan, Votto was activated Tuesday. That puts Hernandez back behind the plate and Hanigan back on the bench despite out-hitting Hernandez by 83 points. If you picked up Hanigan and enjoyed some of his hot hitting, pat yourself on the back. Now it's time to drop him and move on.

Kelly Shoppach, C, Indians: It's amazing that a .189 hitting backup catcher is owned in over 40% of leagues. Some people are expecting the Indians to trade Martinez and open the door to Shoppach. However, I don't expect Martinez to go anywhere. Drop Shoppach.

Kurt Suzuki, C, Athletics: Suzuki burst out of the starting blocks this season, hitting a robust .343 in April. Since then he has slumped to the point where his average has leveled off at .278 -- very close to his lifetime mark. Suzuki has little power and doesn't walk much. If you still have him on your roster, you've held on to him too long.

Dioner Navarro, C, Rays: Navarro looked like he turned a corner last season, hitting .295 for the American League champions. That .295 was sandwiched between a .227 season in 2007 and this season's .218. Last year looks awfully fluky. To make matters worse, Navarro neither walks nor hits for much power-- His OPS is only .564.