This is the eighth in a 10-part series that will break down the storylines at each position in advance of spring training. At the plate today: catcher.
What happened last year: On the heels of a career season, Ryan Doumit was the Opening Day starter behind the plate. The veteran took part in a dozen games before he fractured his right wrist, an injury that required surgery and took him out of the lineup for nearly 12 weeks.
Doumit struggled for two months after his return before he regained his form. He hit .346 in September, but his overall marks of a .250 batting average, 10 home runs and 38 RBI in 75 games represented a dramatic fall-off from the previous season.
In the absence of Doumit, career minor leaguer Jason Jaramillo had a chance to play regularly at the next level. In 63 games, the switch-hitter had a .252 batting average, three homers and 26 RBI and held his own against right-handers in particular.
Emergency replacement Robinzon Diaz (.279, 1, 19) made 33 starts at the position. The 26-year-old was released last November and signed with the Detroit Tigers two weeks later.
In the hunt this year: Doumit and Jaramillo. At the start of preseason camp, this position is as set as any on the roster. How long it remains that way will depend on Doumit and his health status.
The consensus among team talent evaluators is that Jaramillo has what it takes to be everyday player at some point in his career. The 27-year-old provided a hint of it last June, his most active month of the season, when he hit .274 with three homers and 13 RBI in 18 games.
The leader in the clubhouse: Doumit. At 28, he still has the offensive skills and leadership ability to become a cornerstone player, but he won't accomplish it on the disabled list.
In five seasons, Doumit averaged 65 starts in the field. The lack of durability prompted debate about whether a move to first base or right field would be beneficial to him and the team in the future.
Player to watch: Tony Sanchez. Invited the preseason camp as a non-roster player, the fourth overall pick of the 2009 draft is at least one year away from the big leagues. Nonetheless, the 21-year-old is the future at the position, and as such, he will get his share of attention in the days ahead.
Many scouts consider Sanchez to be major league-caliber behind the plate already. The questions are how productive will be as a hitter and how soon will he do it.
The big picture: If Jaramillo and Sanchez make strides in the months ahead, the Doumit trade talk will be more than whispers again. Doumit has an affordable salary ($3.55 million) this season, but it jumps to $5.1 million in the 2011 campaign. By then, Sanchez could be ready for the big leagues.
At the same time, if the team makes a quantum leap in the standings and a productive Doumit is a primary reason for it, then it's not out of the question that he'll stay awhile. Both sides have invested a lot of energy and frustration in the last five years.