ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Kelly Shoppach wants to get back to being the player he was in 2008. That’s exactly what the Tampa Bay Rays are counting on.
The 29-year-old catcher was acquired Tuesday from the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named, giving Tampa Bay depth at the position and new competition for incumbent starter Dioner Navarro.
“We’ve admired Kelly from afar for a while now,” Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.
A .241 career hitter, Shoppach struggled last season after posting impressive numbers while filling in for an injured Victor Martinez with Cleveland in 2008.
“He’s coming off a disappointing ’09 season,” Friedman said, “but we feel like he has all the ability to be a much better player than that.”
After leading American League catchers with 21 homers two years ago, the Indians were expecting big things from Shoppach in 2009. But he batted just .214 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs in 89 games, striking out 89 times in 271 at-bats.
“You can look at (last season) any way you want,” Shoppach said. “Obviously, it was a disappointing year for me. Of course I would have liked to play better. I think everyone would have liked to play better.”
Shoppach, who spent four seasons with Cleveland after being acquired in a 2006 trade with Boston, likes the idea of joining a young team that’s only a year removed from its first World Series appearance.
“Obviously, it’s an opportunity for me to compete now rather than the rebuilding process that Cleveland was going to do,” Shoppach said during a telephone conference call. “Ultimately that is what I want to do. Help a team win.”
Shoppach’s departure from the Indians could make Lou Marson, acquired in the deal that sent ace pitcher Cliff Lee to Philadelphia, Cleveland’s starter behind the plate. Wyatt Toregas likely will be the backup catcher.
Highly touted prospect Carlos Santana is expected to begin the season at Triple-A Columbus, but the Indians hope he will be in the majors at some point next season.
“This is most about our young players,” Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro said. “We are excited about giving them an opportunity to play. It’s an area of strength for us.”
Marson and Toregas both spent time with the Indians late last season, but the 23-year-old Santana is clearly Cleveland’s catcher of the future. He batted .290 with 23 homers and 97 RBIs last season at Double-A Akron and was selected MVP of the Eastern League.
“Most likely for Carlos some time at Triple-A continuing to develop his game-calling, his leadership skills and honing his defensive game will be beneficial,” Shapiro said. “I would expect at some point (next) season, between April and September, we’ll see him in Cleveland.”
Shapiro acknowledged financial considerations were involved in the trade. Shoppach, who made $1.95 million last season, is eligible for salary arbitration and could earn close to $3 million in 2010.
Adding a catcher was one of Tampa Bay’s top priorities this offseason. The switch-hitting Navarro was an All-Star in 2008 but slumped to .218 this year — down 75 points from the previous season. His batting average ranked 219th out of 222 major leaguers with 400 or more plate appearances.
In five seasons with the Indians and Red Sox, the right-handed hitting Shoppach has 43 homers and 141 RBIs. He is a .295 career hitter against left-handed pitching.
“Kelly’s a guy who has great talent and the ability to be a complete catcher,” Shapiro said. “He calls a good game, he throws well and, obviously, he hits for power. I know he strikes out a lot, but he’s got great power. The more contact he makes the more a run producer he will be.”
The Indians will complete the trade before Dec. 20. Shapiro said the player the Indians receive could be on the 25-man roster when the season begins.