Yorvit Torrealba, and Servais time.

So much came together for Texas in 2010, but if you’re in charge of putting the roster together you can’t get too sentimental, can’t be seduced by what happened, in specific roster spots, if unemotionally you don’t believe it’s likely to happen again.  

There were moments of magic behind the plate for Texas last year, as a non-roster journeyman acquired toward the end of camp to stash away at AAA and a veteran contemplating retirement as he was acquired in July paired up to give the Rangers a strong dose of stability and their share of big hits.  But Jon Daniels and his crew obviously felt that Bengie Molina, despite his desire to play at least one more year, wasn’t a good bet to repeat, and that Matt Treanor remains a candidate for backup duties but not more.  

The fact that Yorvit Torrealba was signed Monday, while A.J. Pierzynski remained on the market and Russell Martin was a day away from a possible non-tender, makes it pretty clear that he was a catcher that Texas had targeted, not a “best of what’s left” flier.

And let’s not make too much of what Texas got from Molina and Treanor (and Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia) last year.  They hit a scrawny .212/.288/.317 (big league catchers hit .249/.319/.381 overall).  Threw out a roughly league-average 23 percent of would-be basestealers.  We all love the intangibles, and those two will always be part of this franchise’s good history, but the Rangers can be better at catcher.  They think Torrealba, for the next two years, will help them do that.

If you take a look at the similarity scores on Baseball-Reference.com, you’ll see that the player in baseball history whose career through age 29 and the player whose career through age 30 most resembled Torrealba’s through the same ages (at least offensively) was the same guy: Rangers Senior Director of Player Development Scott Servais, who was certainly heavily involved in the evaluation process as Texas determined which catchers to target this winter.  More on Servais in a bit.

The other interesting thing about those age 29 and age 30 seasons for Torrealba is that they happened in Colorado, for manager Clint Hurdle.  Hurdle was involved in the whiteboard sessions this winter, too, before he took the Pittsburgh job, and his input on Torrealba was obviously positive.

Here are some objective pluses: This year, in what was Torrealba’s age 31 season, San Diego went 53-36 when he started behind the plate.  In all other games (all Nick Hundley starts, incidentally), the Padres were one win over .500 (37-36).  

Torrealba was credited with a 37 percent kill rate in the running game, but that’s a little deceiving.  Of the 22 runners (out of 60) caught stealing on his watch, nine were actually picked off by the pitcher.  Torrealba actually threw out 13 of 51, a 25.5 percent kill rate that still was better than Molina’s (21.8) or Treanor’s (20.0), and for what it’s worth, his catcher’s ERA of 3.14 was not only best in baseball in 2010, but the best since Paul LoDuca’s 2.73 CERA in 2003 (catching a stalwart Dodgers staff).  

If you’re into the deep metrics, Beyond the Box Score unveiled its 2010 catcher defense rankings three weeks ago, factoring in fielding and throwing errors, passed balls and wild pitches allowed, and effectiveness in the running game.  Torrealba was judged to be sixth-best in the game in 2010, Treanor number 40, Molina number 68.

Torrealba doesn’t throw as well as he did when he broke into the big leagues, due in part to a shoulder injury that cost him half of the 2006 season and led to surgery that September, but he still gets high marks for his footwork, a quick release, and his accuracy.  More importantly to the Rangers, he’s a catcher whose ability to handle the staff and call games Hurdle trusted.  Asked about his game yesterday, Torrealba said: “The last couple of years, my hitting has been getting better.  But I just want to be there behind the plate, controlling the game and building confidence from the pitcher to the catcher.”

That’s what the Rangers prioritize from their catchers.

On the offensive side, Torrealba posted a .721 OPS this year (.343 on-base and .378 slug), slightly lifting his career mark to a catcher-respectable .708.  He hit .271 for the season, with power that played up in the second half, though his batting average dipped.  Interestingly, he did significantly more damage in generally pitcher-friendly Petco Park (.312/.394/.429) than he did on the road (.234/.294/.333).  

Torrealba’s best month at the plate was July, when he hit .417/.500/.542 (helping San Diego to its second-best month in a season spent primarily atop the NL West) and likely would have been the Rangers’ top trade target behind the plate that month had the Padres not been in a race themselves at the time.

Texas is committing $3 million to Torrealba in 2011 and another $3.25 million in 2012 to be this team’s starting catcher, even though he’s started half his team’s games behind the plate only twice in 10 big league seasons – 105 games for Hurdle’s World Series Rockies club in 2007, and 89 for the surprising Padres last year.  Both of those very good teams counted on a number of relatively young pitchers.

(He would have carried a much bigger workload than his 61 starts in 2009 if it weren’t for the abduction in Venezuela of his 11-year-old son.  Held for ransom, Yorvit Jr. was released, unharmed, two days after the June 2 kidnapping, but Dad didn’t return to action for the Rockies until five weeks later, and even then he was eased back into the lineup, playing only seven times in July.)

San Diego signed Torrealba to a one-year, $1.25 million contract in February – a $750,000 base with a $500,000 buyout to void a $3.5 million mutual option for 2011.  Remember that bit about mutual options that we discussed in the context of Vladimir Guerrero a few weeks ago – odds are that the Padres arranged Torrealba’s deal that way in order to effectively defer $500,000 of the $1.25 million they were guaranteeing him, with no intention on either side that the mutual option would be exercised.  

The Padres did offer him arbitration, but as a Type B free agent, all that means is that they’ll get a supplemental first-rounder now that he has signed elsewhere – Texas won’t forfeit any of its own picks.

The Rangers – who reportedly outbid both the Rockies (who didn’t want to go more than one year, as they have Chris Iannetta and a couple legitimate catcher prospects nearly ready) and the Mets, if not others – are apparently expecting only 90 to 110 starts out of Torrealba.  

Treanor could end up being the man signed to handle the rest of the load.  It’s unlikely that Texas will entrust number two duties to Teagarden, preferring instead to have him playing every day on his final option for AAA Round Rock, and the recent non-roster deal given to journeyman Kevin Cash – who played briefly for Round Rock (then an Astros affiliate) at the start of the 2010 season – is probably more of a Toby Hall-type flier than a Treanor-type opportunity.

Back to Servais.

He didn’t cross paths with Torrealba in Colorado, where Servais played (2000) and worked (2005) until he was hired by Texas in November 2005, weeks before the Rockies acquired Torrealba from Seattle.

But they did cross paths.

After eight seasons with the Astros and Cubs, Servais signed with San Francisco in January 1999.  When he went to camp with the Giants that spring, among the Giants’ top catching prospects was Torrealba, who at age 20 had reached AAA the previous summer.  Servais recalls a big arm but what stood out more was the kid’s advanced ability, even at that age, to work with pitchers several years older, and the confidence and energy he brought to the field. &nbsp
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It stuck with Servais, whose final days as a player came in 2002, when Torrealba beat him out for the job to back up Giants starting catcher Benito Santiago.  Servais played briefly that spring for San Francisco’s AAA club in Fresno, moving on to AAA Colorado Springs for half a season before retiring in June.  It was then that Servais’s baseball career transitioned from playing to scouting and player development, and on Monday the player who essentially ended Servais’s big league career was reunited with him in Texas, unquestionably with his strong recommendation.

This is not a roster move that made much of a media splash, locally or otherwise, but it’s a solid move to stabilize things behind the plate.  To reinforce that notion, you have to look beyond the numbers, and 2010 should serve as a reminder of just that, as those who watched this team every day know that the tandem of Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor gave this club far more than just average numbers throwing runners out and below-average offense.  Texas hasn’t had any real stability at catcher since Gerald Laird held things down for a couple years, and that’s primarily what the Rangers expect from Yorvit Torrealba: stability, experience, and durability over something far less than 140 games.

It’s a measured, informed decision, as most moves made by this front office are.

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