This MLB handicapper continues his off-season coverage of the hottest topics in baseball. In this edition he focuses on ranking NL catchers and analyzes their teams' futures odds.
1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Posey is the highest-paid catcher in the majors in average annual contract value at around $18.6 million per season -- now that Joe Mauer ($23M per season) is solely a first baseman -- and that's how it should be. There can be no argument that Posey is the best overall catcher in the majors and probably one of the Top-5 most valuable players to his team. Maybe No. 1. It's not a coincidence the Giants have won three World Series titles in Posey's five full seasons. He was the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year when San Francisco won its first title this decade. Posey was the NL MVP and batting champion in 2012, when the Giants won title No. 2. Posey was the first catcher to win NL MVP since Hall of Famer Johnny Bench in 1972 and first in 70 years to win the league's batting crown. San Francisco of course won title No. 3 this past season and Posey was terrific again, hitting .311 with 22 home runs and 89 RBIs in a career-high 547 at-bats. Posey has proven very durable since that devastating injury suffered in a collision at the plate in 2011 limited him to 45 games. MLB's new rule on collisions at the plate is essentially the Buster Posey Rule. FanGraphs projects Posey to hit .299 with 19 homers, 74 RBIs and 69 runs in 129 games this season. Posey does play half his games in a pitchers' park in San Francisco so that will hurt his numbers a bit.
Current Giants MLB odds to win NL pennant: +1000
2. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
This guy might be the most underappreciated star in the majors, but that often happens when you play in a small market like Milwaukee. Lucroy made his first All-Star team last season and finished fourth in the National League MVP voting. He hit .301 with 13 homers, 69 RBIs and 53 doubles in a career-high 585 at-bats. Lucroy led all catchers in wins above replacement last season at 6.7, which was seventh in the majors and better than stars like Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen and Posey (he was 36th at 5.2). Lucroy is criminally underpaid as he is set to make just $3 million in 2015. The team can keep him under control through 2017. Lucroy is projected to hit .282 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs.
Current Brewers MLB odds to win NL pennant: +2500
3. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Most everyone would agree that Molina is the best defensive catcher in baseball these days and he was voted his seventh straight Gold Glove Award for the 2014 season. He joins Bench and Ivan Rodriguez as the only catchers to win seven straight -- they each won 10. Molina threw out 47.7 percent of base-stealers last season and had a fielding percentage of .998. Molina has been a bit injury-prone in recent years and he played only 110 games in 2014, Molina's fewest since his first season. He had a torn ligament in his thumb and that surely affected him at the plate. Molina didn't hit worse than .305 with fewer than 12 homers or 65 RBIs the previous three seasons but dropped to .282 with seven dingers and 38 RBIs in 2014. Molina's projected numbers for 2015 are similar: .284, nine homers and 47 RBIs. I list Molina below Lucroy because Molina turns 33 this year and might be trending downward. (Keep this in mind when placing your future MLB picks!)
Current Cardinals MLB odds to win NL pennant: +700
4. Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals
Ramos could put up big numbers if he can stay healthy as he is in a loaded Washington lineup. He appeared in just 25 games in 2012 before tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee. Ramos played in 78 games in 2013, twice landing on the disabled list with left hamstring issues. Then last season Ramos limited to 88 games, seeing time on the DL twice, this time due to a broken hamate bone in his left hand and a right hamstring strain. He hit .267 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs. The Nationals avoided arbitration with him this offseason by signing Ramos to a $3.55 million deal for this season. If Ramos can play 130 games or so, a big if, he should have strong numbers. Ramos is projected to hit .269 with 16 homers and 55 RBIs.
Current Nationals MLB odds to win NL pennant: +400
5. Miguel Montero, Chicago Cubs
I considered putting new Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal here, but I'm not sure yet how Manager Don Mattingly will split time between Grandal and incumbent A.J. Ellis. There are no such worries on the Cubs with Montero. Chicago acquired the 2011 & '14 NL All-Star from the Diamondbacks this winter for two minor-league pitchers. It was largely a salary dump for the Snakes as Montero is owed $40 million over the next three seasons. Montero hit .243 with 13 homers and 72 RBIs last season for Arizona. The Cubs still have a good catcher on their roster in incumbent starter Wellington Castillo, but he's almost sure to be dealt because Chicago also signed former Red Sox catcher David Ross to be the personal catcher for his buddy Jon Lester. No team keeps three catchers. Montero is projected to hit .249 with nine homers and 43 RBIs in 98 games. I expect more.
Current Cubs MLB odds to win NL pennant: +700