Catchers are typically weak offensive players, but Jason Kendall has been horrible this year, even by catcher standards. His back up, Mike Rivera, hasn't been any better -- he's been even worse in his limited playing time in nearly every statistical category, and is much worse defensively (even though Kendall's nothing special, either, at his age). While Kendall did homer in Houston on Friday night, it was his first home run since September 5, 2008, and was only the third home run as a Brewer -- one less home run than pitcher Yovani Gallardo has hit in his short big league career. Heading into Friday night's game, Kendall had the second lowest OPS of any player in the Majors, at .584 -- only Cincinnati's Willy Taveras was worse, and if it weren't for Dusty Baker's obsession with crappy slap-hitting centerfielders, Taveras wouldn't be playing in the big leagues. For the purposes of comparison, Gallardo is OPSing .580 -- not a far cry from Kendall's number
Rivera, meanwhile, has only managed to hit .203/.294/.271 in the few chances he's had to play -- as bad as Kendall has been, at least he's been able to muster an OBP over .300, and has some defensive value. Not only has Rivera been a non-factor with the bat, but he's one of the worst defensive catchers in the National League.
It's clear that the Brewers have a problem here. The question now is whether or not the Brewers will be able to do anything in the offseason to remedy the situation. Kendall's contract expires at the end of the season, while Rivera will continue to make close to the league minimum. Catching prospects Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy look like they'll eventually make their way to the big league club, but that may not be on a full-time basis until 2011 and 2012, respectively -- Salome has struggled to hit consistently at Triple A this season and has severe defensive shortcomings, while Lucroy may end up repeating Double A to start next year if his bat doesn't continue to improve.
Given the uncertain futures of the young catchers in the minor league system, do the Brewers go out and sign a short-term solution, much like Kendall was intended to be? The upcoming crop of free agent catchers is looking pretty slim, and the last trade the Brewers made to acquire catching (Doug Davis and Dana Eveland for Johnny Estrada) still stands as one of Doug Melvin's worst moves during his time in Milwaukee.
So what seems likely? Unfortunately, it seems like Kendall is interested in playing past this season and wouldn't mind finishing out his career with the Brewers. If Milwaukee doesn't think Salome is ready to take over in 2010, it's entirely possible that Kendall is brought back at a reduced rate -- don't expect him to sign for much more than what Craig Counsell was brought back for this year, around $1 million for 1 year.
While seeing Kendall in the lineup would still be a depressing sight, if you bring up Salome to serve as the back up catcher and give him more ABs than Rivera has been able to see the past couple seasons in that role, it could be a valuable learning experience for the young catcher. While Salome's bat has been a bit disappointing this year -- he's hitting .280/.332/.398 in Nashville a year after hitting .360/.415/.559 in Double A Huntsville -- you'd have to think he'd be able to hit better than Rivera or Kendall in 2010, even if you have to sacrifice some defensive ability when he's in the lineup.
It wouldn't be an ideal situation, but it would be better than the current one. It seems likely that Salome will get a big league call up in September like he did last season -- perhaps it will be a chance for Ken Macha and Doug Melvin to see if he could handle the role of back up catcher, especially if the Brewers are a non-factor in the wildcard race down the stretch.