Eric Fryer has played extremely well these past two months while backing up Yadi Molina, but now the Cardinals have a decision on their hands.
Brayan Pena was sent to Double A on a rehab assignment on June 7th and is expected to return later this month. Pena went down with a knee injury during spring training and needed surgery that has kept him out all season. In his absence, Eric Fryer has taken over as the backup catcher and has done a phenomenal job.
The backup catcher in the MLB is one of the hardest and most important positions. Only playing one or two games a week, it is hard to find a rhyme and contribute but Fryer has been able to do that so far. He has hit a tremendous .414 average this season in his limited action.
Matt Carpenter and his magnificent beard gives the #STLCards a lead. Rally started by an Eric Fryer single.
— Dan Buffa (@buffa82) June 11, 2016
In addition to his hitting, Fryer has been excellent behind the plate. He has thrown out 3 out of the 4 runners that have tried to steal on him. Fryer has been an excellent late game replacement for the aging Yadier Molina. While Fryer does not enter into close games, he takes the workload off of Yadi in blowouts.
Now while Fryer has played well, Pena is expected to return to his backup catching role when he returns to the club. Pena is 34 and coming off a knee injury so there is a lot of speculation about his defensive ability. He has never been a tremendous defensive catcher only throwing out 29% of runners trying to steal. To put that statics in perspective, Molina threw out 41% of runners trying to steal last season.
Pena has also not been a backup catcher for several seasons. Fryer is more experienced at the position while Pena is used to being an everyday player. Pena hit .273 last season with 0 homeruns and was not offered a starting position with any team.
Sending Pena to the minors would be a lot more difficult than Fryers. Pena is owed $5 million over the next two seasons while Fryer is on a one year deal worth $507,000. Fyrer can easily be optioned to triple A while Pena would have to go through wavers and then decide to report or wave his contract. Regardless of the Cardinals decision, they will have to pay the remainder of Pena contract. While the $5million dollars is minuscule to a multi billion dollar organization, it would be a mistake for the Cardinals to pay a player to watch the games on his couch from home. Pena was brought on to take off some of the workload from aging veteran Molina and is expected to do so when he returns from his DL stint.