Ok, let me be honest, my first instinct about the Milwaukee Brewers signing of Gregg Zaun to play catcher was not negative. It was only after it became apparent that the front office had given him assurances that he would start did my frustration ensue.
Initially, I thought that Zaun would be a very capable backup to a rookie like Jonathan Lucroy. He'll be 39 in April and not many teams would be willing to commit starting time to a player that "seasoned" in such a physically demanding position. But, apparently Doug Melvin has other plans.
So what exactly are the Brewers getting in Zaun? He was little more than an afterthought until 2005 with Toronto when, at 34, he hit 11 home runs and drove in 61. Don't expect a repeat performance of that. Zaun is a career .251 hitter who, aside from a three-year stretch with the Blue Jays, can be considered a career backup.
Defensively, he is solid behind the plate but has struggled with the running game as he's gotten older. After being traded to Tampa last year, he threw out only 1 of 14 stealing attempts. Also, he doesn't have the same range around the plate that Kendall had.
Offensively, Zaun is an upgrade over 2009. But that really wasn't a difficult goal to reach, the odds are whoever the Brewers put behind the dish would be an upgrade to Kendall's anemic bat. The best comparison to make to a recent Brewer would probably be Damian Miller in his second and third years with the team.
An optimistic prediction puts Zaun somewhere in the middle of the Crew's catchers for the last ten years. Ahead of Chad Moeller and Keith Osik but below Eddie Perez and Miller (he did hit .273 his first season in Milwaukee).
So why do I have a problem with this signing? It all boils down to the role that the team intends for Zaun. If they intend to have him play 110 to 120 games it would be a mistake. Being an upgrade to Jason Kendall doesn't mean much. At this point in his career Zaun is best suited for a reserve role, no more than 60 games.
Also, if the team elects to go with Zaun and George Kottaras (right) as their backstops next season, it means that there will be a logjam of Catchers at Triple A Nashville. Both Jonathan Lucroy and Angel Salome need to work on their defense, but only one can play the field. Yes there are DH opportunities in the Minors but it's not the offense that are keeping these prospects out of the big leagues.
As Mat Gamel demonstrated last year, the best way to disrupt a player's development is to take playing time away from them. If Zaun is the starter, that's exactly what the Brewers will be doing to their catching prospects.
All that said, if the team decides to start Lucroy anyways and Zaun stays in the backup role this is a good signing. There wasn't a better backup Catcher on the market this off-season. Label the grade for this signing as "Incomplete."
At the end of the day what is really draining is the catcher carousel the team has gone through since 1999. The Brewers haven't had a good catcher since they moved into Miller Park. Zaun is yet another in the long line of bad veteran just trying to make it through another season.
Prospects are exciting, they create buzz and provide promise for the future, it'd be nice to see that in a backstop for a change.