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Kelly Shoppach Is Major Upgrade For Rays

After the disastrous season posted by previous everyday catcher Dioner Navarro, the Rays acquired catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for a player to be named later, according to Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times.

This is the second trade that the Rays have made for a veteran catcher in the past four months, as they added Gregg Zaun from the Baltimore Orioles in August. While Zaun was solid for Tampa, the Rays chose to decline his team option, although they could potentially retain Zaun to split duties with Shoppach if the Rays choose to non-tender Navarro. Navarro completely fell apart in 2009, posting a .218/.261/.322 line, his .258 wOBA was the worst among catchers in the game with 300+ plate appearances. While his BABIP was very low, he also saw a major decline in his line drive rate. It's not remotely shocking that the Rays have chosen to look elsewhere for a catcher for 2010.

In Shoppach, it appears that the Rays have made another solid move, continuing the pattern established by the current management team. Shoppach was long regarded as a good catching prospect with Boston before being included in the trade that sent Coco Crisp to the Red Sox. Due to the presence of Victor Martinez, he failed to get consistent playing time in Cleveland until 2008, when he posted a .261/.348/.517 line (.370 wOBA) in 403 plate appearances. While he's always had issues making contact (37.3% career strikeout rate), he's also willing to work the count (10.9% walk rate in 2009) and he has plus power for a catcher.

Shoppach's ISO did drop from .256 to .185 this past season, and his .241 career batting average leaves a lot to be desired, but the largest catalyst of Shoppach's offensive decline was poor luck on balls in play. From 2006 to 2008, Shoppach posted BABIPs of .387, .357 and .359, but during 2009 that number plummeted to a .286 mark. Using one of my favorite tools, the xBABIP Calculator from The Hardball Times, we see that Shoppach's 2008 BABIP was far higher than the projected .327 mark for that year, but his 2009 BABIP was much, much lower than the .333 xBABIP projected. If we adjust Shoppach's 2009 numbers for a .333 BABIP, assuming the additional hits would be all singles, his line comes out to .250/.357/.428, far more impressive for a catcher, especially one that's solid defensively and arbitration-eligible. The Indians were only so willing to let Shoppach go because he's due for another raise from his 2008 salary of $1.95M, and the Indians already have Lou Marson and Wyatt Toregas on the ML roster, as well as Carlos Santana who should be ready by 2011 at the latest.

It's difficult to gauge the trade given that we don't know exactly what the Rays are sending to Cleveland yet, but considering that Shoppach is likely to improve upon his 2009 offensive performance, it appears that Tampa's made significant improvement at that position, which was clearly the biggest hole in their roster during the disappointing 2009 season.