The Phillies are among several teams finding serious value with a cheap veteran catcher like Todd Pratt.
The core belief of the Moneyball theology is finding quality at low cost, the way Billy Beane does it in small-market Oakland.
One of the hardest positions to find quality is at catcher. Even the best prospects take years to develop, and once they arrive, it’s no guarantee they’ll succeed.
Quantitatively, the short-lived days of hard-hitting backstops are finished, circa Mike Piazza 1996. Nowadays, any offense is a bonus, as teams across the league have traded light-hitting for heavy experience and defense.
From my vantage point, the best catcher in the National League is the guy behind the plate this series, Mike Matheny, who’s hitting just .249 with 10 homers. It's a small sacrifice for the defense and competence he brings to the position. Matheny signed with the Giants this winter for three-year, $10.5 million contract. Ironically, that's about what Jason Kendell is making this year alone for the thrifty A's, with $24 million still owed on his contract.
Obviously, the Phillies are locked in with Mike Lieberthal and his albatross contract - $7.5 million makes him the highest-paid catcher in the league behind Piazza this season. He gets even more expensive next year. And because of the serious drought down on the farm, the team has been forced to resign Pratt.
As it turned out, it’s the one move that’s been a unanimous success.
Year after year, Pratt has passed up opportunities to play elsewhere to back up Lieby and his wads of cash.
He’s the team’s most dedicated soldier, gladly excepting his $750,000 one-year deal to sit most games, watch Lieberthal pop out, and prep pitchers for the opposition.
At 38, he’s waited a long time for the Phillies to finally realize Lieberthal was a mistake. Lately, they’ve split time evenly, and the results have been staggering. The pitching staff stabilized, and he hasn’t been too shabby with the lumber, either.
It’s hard putting a price tag on what Pratt brings to the Phils, but don’t be surprised if he’s offered more than the company base this winter. He's earned it.