To Pudge or not to Pudge

One of the Tigers biggest decisions this off season will be whether or not to exercise Pudge Rodriguez’s $13 million option.  The net cost to the Tigers is $10 million because there is a $3 million buyout.  But be it $10 million or $13 million there is no way that Rodriguez will be “worth” what he is owed.  Still I think exercising the option is something the Tigers should do.

Rodriguez has caught over 2000 games, and is in a well expected decline phase of his career.  Next year he’ll be 36 and there’s no reason to believe things will be better.  His slugging percentage has declined each of the last 4 years and the .420 slugging he posted this year was the lowest since 1993.

But his slugging is the acceptable part of his offensive stat line.  For the second time in the last 3 years he finished with a sub .300 on base percentage.  He’s drawn a whopping 46 walks the last 3 years combined.

And then there is his defense.  Rodriguez is much heralded for his ability to shut down the running game, and it has been largely deserved up until this year.  However his caught stealing rate fell to 29% this year which was the lowest of his career.  He also had trouble blocking balls as he allowed .510 passed balls and wild pitches to get by him per game.

Okay, so I haven’t painted a compelling reason to bring him back.  But it really comes down to a matter of if not Pudge, then who?  The free agent class includes the likes of Jason Kendall and Michael Barrett.    Two of the bigger names are Paul Lo Duca and Jorge Posada, but both are the same age as Rodriguez which is a dangerous age for a catcher.

Rodriguez’s offensive numbers were bad, and I don’t really look for them to get better.  I’d expect a few more walks and a slightly better OBP next year, but I also expect the slugging to continue to drop.  But even with the decline he’s still better than Lo Duca who had a .690 OPS this year.

As for the defense, Rodriguez was still above average at throwing out baserunners and ranked 5th among all starting catchers.  While his kills were down, it was in a year when stolen base percentage reached an all time high of 74.6%.  Plus throw in the deterrent that his reputation is and he had the 4th fewest attempts per game against him.  And it was still superior to Lo Duca’s 19% or Posada’s 22%.

As for the passed balls and wild pitches, he does rank 3rd from the bottom.  He does rank ahead of Posada and he’s 2 spots behind A.J. Pierzynski who just received a 2 year extension that will pay him $6.25 million in 2009 and 2010. 

Out of all the options, Rodriguez’s might be the most palatable.  Upgrading the position is going to be difficult at best and could prove to be impossible.  I’m not going to say that Rodriguez won’t be overpaid if he comes back, but do you overpay for 1 year of Pudge or 3 to 4 years of another mediocre catcher?

Danny Knobler is saying that the Tigers are likely to turn down the option I don’t know if he is reporting or opining, but his information is usually pretty good.  If that’s the case I’d hope that the Tigers look to bring back Pudge for not one, but two more years at a discounted per year rate.

Tigers unlikely to bring back Pudge – MLive.com: Detroit Tigers
THT Catching – Major League Baseball Statistics