MVP catcher Dao-zi Ling is facing a rough ride in seeking a new contract this off season, since becoming a free agent at the end of this season.
The veteran former Calgary Inferno catcher, who recently won his second Bull Cup with the organization, remains in free agency and thus far has had no teams show interest.Ling was most recently earning $8.2 million per year, the highest annual salary in his most recent 5-year extension with the Inferno, which he signed in 2012. That contract totaled $31.8 million.
The 34-year-old is now rumored to be seeking up to $24 million a year, which would be an incredible pay raise that would put him in the same company as other catchers in the Bull League, such as Boston’s Guido Groeneveld ($23.2 m), Denver’s Javier Chavarria ($27.6 m) or even Boston’s Bill Ross ($35 m) — although Ross is now transitioned to the DH role.
But is Ling even in the same league as Groeneveld and Chavarria? And are any teams willing to take that large of a risk on a 34-year-old catcher, whose best years may have already passed?
The answer to the first question is a resounding yes. His individual accomplishments are impressive. The Taiwanese Tyrant, as he has been referred to by some opponents, is a perennial all-star — he’s been recognized as one of the best catchers in the AEL for seven straight seasons. His three MVP’s (and the only ones won by a Calgary player) are only one less than Hall of Fame catcher Mike Lapi, and place him 3rd on the list of most MVP’s awarded.
When compared to his fellow catchers, his stats look at least as impressive.
Chavarria has just one MVP trophy, though he has the same number of trips to the All-Star game as Ling. The MVP has eluded Groeneveld thus far, but the Boston catcher has been to the All-Star game ten times, has both a defensive and offensive award at the catcher position, and a pair of Bull Cup trophies under his belt, just like Ling.
Clearly, Ling is worthy of being considered among the top catchers in the league, and the current market rate for those catchers is in the vicinity of what Ling’s agents are asking for their client.
The answer to the second question is tougher to determine. There are many teams that would and should look at upgrading their catchers, including playoff competitors like Montreal, Jacksonville and most recently, Rimouski.
The Rimouski Fighting Moose have the most desperate need as they are currently saddled with Milt Tracey, arguably the worst of the worst. Tracey is a capable defensive backstop, but lacks any offensive credibility, and as a result is a borderline liability. He would make a decent bench catcher, but a team like the Moose, who have a huge pot of gold to play with this off season, should consider an upgrade and can afford a Ling contract.
Last year, Montreal juggled the catcher role between Dan Jackman and Daniel Hiller. Hiller saw just 40 games, while Jackman started 75 and was the main guy. But both hit under .250, and produced no sizable assistance to the Metros run scoring. Jackman was a stopgap, acquired in a trade with Seattle back in March. Hiller is young, and showed promise at A-level and AA-level, but still needs seasons to improve and blossom, and could eventually be a top-10 two-way catcher. The Metros will likely make the playoffs again without Ling, but adding a Ling for 3 years would give time for Hiller to reach his peak. But the Metros don’t have the budget for Ling this off season.
Finally, Jacksonville, who are currently running out 30-year-old Rick Tomiak behind the platter, could make a move under the right circumstances. Tomiak has shown some offensive ability from time to time, but is a career .261 hitter, and doesn’t hit for power. Ling would match well with their other power hitters, like CF Gabel Reyes, and 3B David Baker, but the Ravens would need to juggle their budget to afford him.
Other teams who might consider a bid could include the New York Dragons, though they already have the OSA-rated 6th best catcher in the Bull League in Mokuo Kajioka, a career .280 batter with an OPS over .800 and double-digit home runs. The Dragons don’t need to upgrade the position, but under the right circumstances could deal Kajioka, a reasonably-priced 2nd tier catcher who could net them valuable prospects, then sign Ling as their main guy.
The only other team even close to being in the market would be Arizona, but they are unlikely to have the budget for Ling either, and quite frankly have other more pressing concerns on their plate, including bolstering their pitching. They lost team icon Bill Sarauer, another catcher, to free agency, and should definitely consider upgrading from backup Vincent Blin, but may have to consider a more reasonably priced option, or even re-signing Sarauer.
Ling will get snapped up, as he is worth the price of admission, and there are at least three teams who have a serious need for an MVP-grade catcher to help them with a playoff run. But at 34, it is doubtful teams will want to sign him for anything longer than 3 or 4 seasons. Look for him to go by the new year, although time will tell.