If you were like me when you got the news of Yan Gomes being shipped off just before November came to a close, you let an expletive unwillingly leave your lips. It was kind of like when the doctor taps your knee with that little orthopedic hammer of sorts. For your leg to kick forward is just a natural reaction, except we Indians fans happened to be standing right in front of that leg as it reflexed upward, just below waist level. That’s me doubling over right about now, figuratively of course, but in pain nonetheless.
There seem to be certain positions in each of the four major North American sports leagues that are increasingly harder to come by. I don’t mean you can’t find something like a kicker in the NFL, but to find a good kicker is another case entirely. In the NHL, a solid netminder you can rely on night after night seems to feel more like the hunt for Bigfoot for several teams these days. For baseball, it’s arguably the toughest position to play on the field.
One would think that if you finally landed yourself not only a competent one, but one that’s an all-star, you would move mountains to retain them. In the case of the Indians, they didn’t move mountains. They moved the catcher.
That’s right, folks. The only landscape that changed here was that of the roster. Indians President Chris Antonetti sent the best backstop we’ve had since Sandy Alomar Jr. to the Washington Nationals for two prospects and a player to be named. Those two prospects include outfielder Daniel Johnson and right-handed pitcher Jefry Rodriguez. Here’s hoping those two guys and the future mystery man will reap great rewards for us.
Here is the problem I have with the trade.
To start with, good catchers are hard to come by. I understand Gomes’ bat wasn’t knock-your-socks-off amazing. Most catchers, even the good ones, don’t have a rock star batting average. Let’s face it, the days of Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk are gone. Still, Gomes could surprise you with his bat from time to time, but his biggest strengths were primarily found on the defensive side of the plate.
According to MLB.com, Yan Gomes threw out nearly one-third of baserunners over the past two years, ranking him seventh best in the league at the task. That’s not just a stat to sweep under the rug. To throw out a baserunner is to remove the opposition’s opportunities for runs. It can make base hits irrelevant. It can rectify a walk. Not only does this help take the weight off your pitcher, but it’s also a godsend for the whole team.
Then, there’s the immeasurable aspect that ultimately contributes to the measurable. He had a chemistry with the starting rotation that was almost like a brotherhood. It was nearly as if Gomes could close his eyes and just place his glove because he knew where that pitch would end up and when. You can’t quantify that. It’s not a data-friendly aspect you can list. With that being said, this solid chemistry between Gomes and Kluber or Gomes and Bauer, etc., contributed to throwing out 32.8% of baserunners. It contributed to the pitchers’ success as well as the team’s.
Take all of those glaring positives I just mentioned, combine it with the fact that we traded our #1 catching prospect Francisco Mejia last season, add the reality that Roberto Perez (Gomes’ successor) has a lifetime average of .205 and then remember we’re supposed to be retooling the team to get better. Well hell, I’m confused. Either Chris Antonetti knows something I don’t or the Dolan’s are back to pinching pennies. Either way, this team’s window of opportunity for a World Series title just slammed shut with a resounding crash.
Photo: USA Today