Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images
A look back at the solid 2012 season of the Braves' backup catcher extraordinaire, David Ross.
These are just a few of the Braves' backup catchers between 2000 and 2008. Like most backup catchers, these guys didn't hit much while with Atlanta; none had an OPS above .650 with the team. None lasted very long with the Braves, either (Peña was the only one to make it to a third year).
That revolving door of subpar backups ended December 5, 2008, when the Braves signed David Ross. In four years with the Braves, Ross has a .269 / .353 / .463 batting line in 663 PAs. He hasn't had a bad year yet, and 2012 was no exception.
This year, the Braves leaned on Ross a bit more than they had in the past, due largely to Brian McCann's injury struggles. Ross had his most PAs (196), hits (45), and homers (9) since 2007, when he was a semi-regular with the Reds. His overall 2012 stat line of .256 / .321 / .449, while a bit down from his '09 and '10 seasons, was still very good.
Ross now has 4 of the top 7 offensive seasons by a backup catcher in Atlanta Braves history. Here are the top 10, ranked by OPS+ ("backup" defined as 50 to 250 PAs):
Here's a fun fact. Only one active catcher has more above-average hitting seasons (OPS+ above 100, min. 100 PAs) than David Ross. That would be Joe Mauer, with 9. Ross has 6, tied with Mike Napoli, Victor Martinez, and Ramon Hernandez. Brian McCann "only" has 5, though he just missed the OPS+ cutoff in both 2005 and 2007.
Ross had some great moments in 2012. None was more important than his go-ahead 2-run homer early in the Wild Card Game. If the Braves had held that lead, Ross would have been the hero, and likely would have played a major role in the NLDS. As it is, like Eric Hinske's epic pinch-hit homer in Game 3 of the 2010 NLDS, Ross' big hit is just a side note. But a memorable one nonetheless--for us at least.
In addition to his solid offensive performance, Ross also had another stellar defensive season. He threw out 15 of 34 attempted base-stealers (44%, vs. the MLB average of 26%). He called a good game. He framed pitches well. He did basically everything else well, too.
In other words, David Ross was, once again, the ideal backup catcher.
As I'm sure you know, Ross is a free agent this offseason. The last time he was due to come on the market, the Braves re-signed him to a bargain 2-year contract during the season. This time, they weren't so proactive. It seems fairly obvious that the Braves will still try to re-sign Ross, perhaps to another 2-year deal, but they will have competition this time around.
I would expect Ross to be a very hot commodity. Virtually every team could use a guy like Ross, and how many of them already have their backup catcher spot locked in for next year? Even at his advanced age (he'll be 36 by the start of next season), Ross is one of the more desirable catchers on the market. Some teams may even see him as a starter or a platoon regular.
Of course, Ross will likely give the Braves a strong chance to re-sign him. Judging from his previous contracts, he likes it here and is willing to take a big discount to stay. Despite his stellar play, Ross has only earned $6.25 million in his 4 years with the Braves. I'm sure the Braves will be willing to offer him a raise; the questions are 1) how much will they offer, and 2) how much does Ross want?
I don't know the answer to those questions, but the Braves could offer Ross a fairly substantial raise without breaking the bank. Something on the order of $4-5M over 2 years would be a big step up for Ross without being a big risk for the Braves. He'll almost certainly get a better offer than that, however. He's likely to be worth more like $4-5M per year, even accounting for age-related declines.
There is a non-negligible chance that Ross' hitting will collapse at age 36 and beyond. His last two years have seen a spike in his strikeout rate and a drop in his walk rate, neither of which bodes well despite his still-good overall numbers. If he starts striking out even more and walking even less, Ross will look a lot more like a typical backup catcher.
However, with his defensive skills, Ross doesn't have to be a particularly good hitter to be worth a few million per year. He just has to not be disastrous. Knowing that, I hope that the Braves meet his price, assuming that it's not "starting catcher" money. When it comes to free agent investments, David Ross is about as safe as they come.