General manager Jon Daniels announced Tuesday that he has found the Texas Rangers’ primary catcher for 2014, and it’s the same player who about a year ago wasn’t liked enough to be in the lineup every day.
But Geovany Soto isn’t the same player he was last winter, when the Rangers re-signed him to kick off the winter meetings in December but added A.J. Pierzynski later in the month.
Daniels left himself some wiggle room last year, saying that the Rangers would continue to look for catching help. But his tone was markedly different Tuesday, and the Rangers will be looking the rest of the offseason for a player to complement Soto next year.
That could be Brian McCann, the top free agent catcher. The ideal second catcher on the roster will be able to play another position and be in the lineup on a regular basis with Soto, who impressed in 2013 with the way he handled the pitching staff and the improvement he showed at the plate.
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“We signed him with the expectation that he will be our regular, our primary catcher in 2014,” Daniels said. “I think we’ve got a lot of Rangers pitchers who are going to be very happy about that.
“Geo brings a lot to the club with his handling of the staff and defense. I think with his work and adjustments he made late in the year with [hitting coach] Dave Magadan, we’ve seen what he was capable of earlier in his career.”
Daniels said that there are a few ways for the Rangers to find a second catcher. They could go with a traditional backup, but they will also look at catchers who bring the kind of punch at the plate that manager Ron Washington will try to keep in the lineup.
McCann has that kind of bat, but he has never caught fewer than 92 games in a season and has never played another position in the field. He served as the Atlanta Braves’ designated hitter 11 times the past five seasons during interleague play.
There is a contingent that believes McCann could easily transition to first base, a spot the Rangers tried to upgrade last month by getting in the mix for Cuban free agent Jose Abreu.
Daniels said that he hasn’t ruled out acquiring a catcher who, like McCann, would command a large contract.
“There are some different ways we can fill it,” Daniels said. “There’s the traditional backup or a guy Wash will want to have in his lineup every day behind the plate or at a different spot.”
Soto, who will make a base salary of $3.05 million in 2014, batted .245 in 54 games this year. He hit nine homers and drove in 22 runs but was at his best in September.
Soto batted .440 with three homers and five RBIs, a byproduct of Magadan convincing him to stick with his mechanics instead of changing them every time he hit a slump or felt uncomfortable.
The time on the bench as Pierzynski’s backup allowed Soto to forge a better bond with the pitching staff and also see the game from a different perspective. He became Yu Darvish’s catcher down the stretch and said that he can help the American League Cy Young finalist improve in 2014.
“My whole career I’ve been a starting catcher, and it’s nothing new for me,” said Soto, who made $2.75 million last season. “I feel that with this pitching staff, it’s so great, having this opportunity it’s going to blossom like no one has ever seen before.”