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With the possible exception of closers, there isn’t a position in fantasy baseball that is associated with a greater amount of dread than catcher. This is particularly true in -only leagues, where there are 24 catching slots to fill and only 15 starters to choose from. If this isn’t bad enough, this isn’t like other positions on the diamond where you can at least pick up a few steals or a smattering of home runs from more than a few backups. If you do get stuck with a defensive cipher, it is possible that you will get zero offensive production from the position for the entire year.

Fantasy managers often lament the decrepitude of a position incorrectly, relying on faulty memory and anecdotal evidence. But last year it turns out that their whining was not misplaced; the position was bad.

Table 1: Top 10 AL Catchers by Season, 2013-2015

Rank

2015

$

2014

$

2013

$

1

Evan Gattis

$17

Yan Gomes

$19

Victor Martinez

$21

2

Russell Martin

$17

Carlos Santana

$18

Mike Napoli

$19

3

Brian McCann

$16

Salvador Perez

$16

Carlos Santana

$18

4

Salvador Perez

$15

Dioner Navarro

$15

Joe Mauer

$18

5

Stephen Vogt

$15

Joe Mauer

$14

Salvador Perez

$17

6

Blake Swihart

$10

Brian McCann

$14

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

$16

7

James McCann

$8

Derek Norris

$13

Jason Castro

$16

8

Yan Gomes

$7

Kurt Suzuki

$12

A.J. Pierzynski

$15

9

Caleb Joseph

$7

John Jaso

$10

Matt Wieters

$13

10

Matt Wieters

$6

Tyler Flowers

$10

Yan Gomes

$12

Average

$12

$14

$17

Since 2013, an NL catcher has topped $20 in earnings eight times; in the AL, this has only happened once during the same time frame. Over the last three years, there hasn’t been an impact fantasy player behind the plate in AL-only. Furthermore, the best players at the position are migrating off of catcher to other positions. Martinez, Napoli, Mauer, Santana, and Gattis are now playing other positions and won’t be returning to action behind the dish anytime soon. The result is not only a talent drain at the top of the position, but a general lack of any kind of decent options once you get past the top five or six backstops. The value proposition didn’t just slip in 2015, it downright collapsed. Furthermore, outside of Swihart the pipeline in the near-term isn’t promising for fantasy. Buying two dead spots on a 14-man offense isn’t an attractive option, and the strategy of ensuring production from at least one catching slot is something I recommend pushing for in AL-only formats. As always, take great care not to be overzealous and push too far behind the plate because you “have to have a top catcher.” Spending $20 on Martin is okay, spending $25 on him is not.

Last year, the experts bet on a bit of a bounce back for the AL catching pool. As you would probably guess based on what the 10 best catchers did in 2015, the market was disappointed.

Table 2: 10 Most Expensive AL Catchers, 2015

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

2014

1

Evan Gattis

$17

23

-7

28

24

18

21

$14

2

Yan Gomes

$7

20

-13

21

21

18

19

$19

3

Brian McCann

$16

18

-2

17

19

17

15

$14

4

Salvador Perez

$15

17

-2

18

18

15

17

$16

5

Russell Martin

$17

16

1

15

15

19

16

$16

6

Matt Wieters

$6

15

-9

11

18

16

13

$5

7

John Jaso

$6

12

-5

10

11

14

9

$10

8

Mike Zunino

$0

11

-12

12

13

9

11

$9

9

Jason Castro

$4

9

-5

4

11

13

10

$8

10

Chris Iannetta

$2

8

-6

2

9

14

7

$9

Average

$9

15

-6

14

16

15

14

$12

Martin was the only catcher not to lose money in Table 2, and even he was only able to return a paltry dollar on his investment. The best case scenarios were the catchers like McCann, Perez, and Martin: backstops who lost or gained a little bit of cash for their fantasy managers but still returned a good deal in the way of stats. Gattis was a loss, but getting back $17 on a $23 investment and rolling the dice on a one-dollar scrub was a better play than any combination from Wieters down to Iannetta. With teams emphasizing defense—and particularly framing—even more than they have in the recent past, the fantasy landscape at catcher is going to be even more brutal than it has been in previous seasons. It is possible that 2016 could see a bit of a bounce back, but it is also possible that more than a few AL teams will offer meager value at catcher once again.

With so many uninspired choices, navigating the bottom of the barrel strategically will be even more vital in AL-only auctions. Below is a review of some of the options that are primarily for AL-only fantasy managers. All of the dollar values in this article—both in the tables above and in the player capsules below—can be found here.

James McCann ($8)/Jarrod Saltalamacchia ($4) – Tigers
The catching arrangement in Detroit is the typical fantasy nightmare, where the superior offensive opinion is likely to take a backseat to the superior defensive one. McCann projects to be the starter for the Tigers. Even though Baseball Prospectus’ catching metrics rate McCann negatively—and comparably to Saltalamacchia – the scouting reports on McCann tell a different story, and the Tigers likely agree. McCann will provide AL-only value for Detroit, but it probably won’t be much more than the eight dollars he earned in 2015; a $10-11 season is likely the best case scenario. Salty is the guy whose ceiling is far more tantalizing (despite the low batting average) but his performance has never matched the potential and while fantasy owners would love to speculate on Saltalamacchia as a starter, the die seems to be cast in Detroit. That’s a shame, as if everything else was equal on defense McCann and Salty’s career splits would favor a platoon with Salty on the good side of the platoon. Saltalamacchia could hit 15 home runs over the course of a full seasons—albeit with a subpar batting average—but the best case for him as a backup is likely an 8-10 home run season with a .240-.250 batting average. That still isn’t bad, and will put him above the class of dollar derby scrubs in AL-only. McCann is the kind of catcher I’d prefer to pay $4-5 for and hope for a mild profit as opposed to paying a par price of $10-11 and losing big if he crashes and burns and Salty does wrest the job from him by mid-year.

Curt Casali ($4)/Hank Conger ($6) – Rays
This isn’t definitively going to be the configuration that the Rays decide to use entering 2016; it’s possible that the Rays opt to pair Conger with Rene Rivera and send Casali down to Triple-A for depth. But this duo does provide the best fantasy potential, particularly given the power both Casali and Conger displayed in 2015. Neither catcher has a particularly solid track record, although Conger’s framing skills could give him an advantage over the less heralded Casali, particularly if the Rays decide to go defense first and suck along with a .200-.220 batting average. Regardless of the configuration, none of the catchers here should fetch more than a $4-5 bid. However, double-digit power potential at catcher is always worth monitoring in AL-only. If Conger projects as the backup, he’s still worth a $2-3 stab at the end of your auction. In 201 at bats, he hit 11 home runs last year. You can’t extrapolate 20-25 home runs from that, but even a repeat performance would make Conger a bargain. Casali had a similarly strong HR:AB ratio, but his minor league track record doesn’t suggest a repeat performance.

Alex Avila ($0)/Dioner Navarro ($4)
Fantasy managers have short memories, so can be forgiven for forgetting the fact that Avila earned $20 in AL-only in 2011. Since then, it has been a steep and ugly decline for the former Tigers catcher, and he bottomed out last year with an awful .191 batting average in 178 plate appearances. He has resurfaced with the White Sox and despite the signing of Navarro, Avila is pegged to be the starter, or least on the good side of the platoon. This is yet another situation where Navarro appears to be the more favorable fantasy option but is likely to get fewer at bats. Avila could see a power lift in Chicago (he is moving from an unfavorable home run park to a favorable one) but there is a real danger that he could get 400-450 plate appearances and earn negative dollars thanks to his batting average. If you buy Navarro, the hope is you can snag him for $2 or so and have him duplicate last year’s production across 250-300 at-bats.

Sleepers are hard to come by in AL-only leagues, but if you are looking for someone who can make an impact in a redraft league, here are a few endgame plays to consider.

Gary Sanchez – Yankees
With McCann ensconced behind the plate for New York, it appears that Sanchez’s path to playing time in New York is blocked for the foreseeable future. However, it is possible that the Yankees bring Sanchez north with the team and use him as a backup. Even with only 150 plate appearances or so, Sanchez would immediately catapult over a number of weaker AL-only options thanks to his power potential. With the Yankees’ older lineup, injuries could always push Sanchez into additional playing time.

Geovany Soto – Angels
Soto will be completely ignored by the fantasy cognoscenti this spring, but he is one of my favorite kind of sleepers: a power hitting catcher who is backing up a completely unknown quantity. Even including Soto’s lost 2014, he has 47 home runs across 1175 plate appearances dating back to 2011. Soto isn’t likely to get a full season’s worth of at bats, but even in a part time or limited role, he could do some damage in AL-only.

Caleb Joseph – Orioles
If Matt Wieters hadn’t accepted his qualifying offer, Joseph would have a much higher profile, and wouldn’t be part of this bottom-of-the-barrel conversation. However, Wieters has had difficulty staying on the field the last two seasons, so Joseph could get a fair number of plate appearances (or Wieters could spend a healthy amount of time at DH if the Orioles don’t make a big splash in the free agent market) anyway.

Josh Phegley – Athletics
Phegley isn’t likely to supplant Stephen Vogt in Oakland anytime soon, but it is likely that the A’s will continue with last year’s playing time strategy: putting Vogt in at first base and DH occasionally to get his bat in the lineup and give him extra rest. Phegley’s power will be somewhat suppressed playing in Oakland, but with a similar amount of playing time as in 2015, 10 home runs in 250 plate appearances is a realistic ceiling.

Kurt Suzuki – Twins
Suzuki is the polar opposite of many of the low-end catchers in this section. He won’t be worth much unless he does get a healthy amount of playing time, and at the moment J.R. Murphy is projected to be the starter. However, Suzuki was in this position last year in Minnesota and wound up getting a large chunk of playing time when Josmil Pinto crashed and burned. Try to stash Suzuki for a dollar and hope for full-time or close to full-time numbers in runs and RBI.

Mike Zunino – Mariners
Speculation in fantasy usually ends in failure, and it isn’t something I like to do in redraft leagues or keeper leagues with limited farm systems or reserve lists. But if I had to gamble on a backstop this year with a dubious path to playin time, the play would be Zunino: a hitter with power potential who isn’t blocked by anyone spectacular in the majors and whose framing numbers last year were well above average. The Mariners plan is to have Zunino start in Triple-A where they will rework his swing and try to cure what led to an abysmal .174/.230/.300 slash line in 2015. My hopes are not high, but a catcher who slugged 22 home runs in 2014 shouldn’t entirely be ignored in deeper formats.