White Sox evaluating alternatives behind the dish
More experienced catcher may help increase offensive production
CHICAGO -- In the mind of Tyler Flowers, the catching combination he forms with Josh Phegley can "get the job done" for the White Sox in 2014 and beyond.
Flowers also understands the business side of Major League Baseball, and the "what have you done for me lately" sort of attitude.
"Realistically, I highly doubt that situation will occur," Flowers told MLB.com during a phone interview, when asked for his thoughts on the club's backstop tandem remaining the same.
Catching will be one of the issues White Sox general manager Rick Hahn discusses during this week's General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., which began Monday. The White Sox already have talked to the camp of free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia, more to gauge interest than to exchange offers.
While it's expected that a more experienced catcher will be added to the White Sox mix, there's not only a chance that the White Sox could venture forth with Flowers and Phegley but that Flowers could return as the team's starting catcher. White Sox pitchers like throwing to Flowers, who had a 3.86 ERA when he was behind the plate last year, which is one of the top priorities for the organization when assessing the position at the big league level.
Of course, hitting .195 with a .279 on-base percentage and 94 strikeouts over 256 at-bats, which were Flowers' '13 statistics, doesn't quite fit the team description offensively. Flowers, who turns 28 in January, hopes for a second chance after a rough first year in a regular role.
"Don't base one player's season for the rest of his life," Flowers said. "Contrary to the statistics next to my name, I still don't lack in confidence that I can help a team at the Major League level."
This last season ended for Flowers on Sept. 5, when he underwent shoulder surgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. There was no structural damage to Flowers' labrum or rotator cuff and his recovery time was estimated at two to three months.
As of this past weekend, Flowers said the shoulder recovery was progressing pretty much as expected and maybe even a little bit ahead of schedule. He's in the strengthening phase and has been able to swing the bat fine, but has held off from throwing.
"There's no rush. We want to solidify the strength and the shoulder before we start throwing," Flowers said. "I've been told I can throw if I want to. They would prefer if I don't at this point.
"That specific kind of pain is gone," said Flowers of an injury that bothered him to some extent since the end of the '12 season. "There's a little different pain at times, but that's part of surgery and recovering from it. I can tell going into positions where it hurt, now it doesn't. I'm encouraged we've solved the issue."
Phegley, 25, hit his way to the Majors in '13 and then knocked out three homers and drove in eight during his first five games, including a grand slam off of Anibal Sanchez in Detroit, before finishing with a .206 average and .223 on-base percentage. He has been unofficially viewed as the starting catcher going into the upcoming season if no changes are made, but a healthy Flowers, who is arbitration-eligible, figures to be tendered a contract and would battle with Phegley for the starting nod.
Picking up Saltalamacchia would not cost the White Sox a Draft pick, as the Red Sox did not make a qualifying offer to their free agent. Keeping that pick is an important step in the reshaping process for the White Sox, who are looking to get things right and keep things right for a long time by building a solid young base.
The White Sox projected payroll for '14 figures to check in somewhere near $85 million, and they already have around $60 million committed before arbitration. So, Saltalamacchia's contractual demands will play a significant part in the South Siders' continued interest.
Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter and features a .263 average with a .327 on-base percentage against right-handed pitching in his career, versus a .206 average and .267 on-base percentage against southpaws. Flowers believes a new catcher in the mix would be more about finding a lefty-righty balance offensively, as the White Sox had with Flowers and A.J. Pierzynski, as opposed to bringing in more experience than what they currently possess. That addition doesn't necessarily have to be a frontline player or done through free agency.
Whatever decision is made by the White Sox, whether they non-tender Flowers or give him a second chance at grabbing the starting nod, he's confident there's Major League success ahead of him.
"I'm not concerned about sitting on my couch in March or April. It's not a thought of mine whatsoever," Flowers said. "The issue with me currently is not the ability to catch. It's the ability to be healthy and show up with a consistent swing every day.
"I don't worry about not having a job. Hopefully, it's with the White Sox, but wherever I go, I'm prepared and ready to contribute. Wherever I end up, I will present myself again in the big leagues."