The Case of Baseball’s Backup Quarterback

Jimmy Garoppolo (25) is a Quarterback for the New England Patriots, he has been their backup Quarterback since his draft in 2014. During his career he has earned approximately $2.4 million, played in 17 games (out of a possible 56) and started only two (due to the Tom Brady suspension).

He is currently the talk of the NFL when it comes to teams trading for a Quarterback. This is a guy who (according to some) is worth a 1st round draft pick. All for being a backup.

Jimmy becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018 and will be eligible to sign for any team, but this is all dependent on what happens next for him. If he is traded and becomes a starter, he has the opportunity to earn some “top dollar”. Or, there is the risk to go full Johnny Manziel and crumble into nothing before being released. It’s a pretty risky shot to take, especially as the NFL season is 16 games long and you really don’t have time to prove yourself before the under pressure coaches have to pull you and give you a clipboard to hold.

That made me wonder, does baseball have an equivalent? Does it have a position where a player can “hide” and collect his lower level of cash whilst taking very little risk?

The straight answer is no. As even the weakest relievers will regularly come into a game, no matter how infrequent it is. Starting pitchers clearly rotate and utility guys end up playing almost a comparable number of games compared to their starting team mates, depending on their versatility (I’m looking at you Brock Holt).

The only position close to a backup QB would be a backup catcher. Yes, they may make the odd start to allow the starter to rest or if the starting pitcher has a personal catcher, but they could sit and “hide” whilst collecting their guaranteed money. But in baseball it’s very different – unless a team signs you as their starter on a big one-year deal – you could completely suck on a five-year deal and still collect your guaranteed money. But that doesn’t help this post does it?

So I decided to use the excellent website to see how many backup catchers are out there and what their salaries amount to.

There are only 10 teams that have backup catchers drawing a salary different from their initial wage (in the sense that they have made it to free agency or signed extensions. Christian Vazquez does not count for example), they are as follows (number in brackets = total number of “paid” catchers on roster):

  • Arizona Diamondbacks (3)
  • Atlanta Braves (3)
  • Baltimore Orioles (2)
  • Kansas City Royals (2)
  • New York Mets (2)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates (2)
  • San Francisco Giants (2)
  • Seattle Mariners (2)
  • Texas Rangers (2)
  • Washington Nationals (3)

After doing some quick calculations, I found out that the total amount spent on catchers for these teams is $88.9m (Buster Posey and Matt Wieters make up over 35% of that) with the average cost of a starting catcher at $6.9m. The total spent on backup catchers is approximately $20.4m and the average cost of a backup is $1.57m. Remembering of course, this is all for one season. Not like Jimmy Garoppolo and his $2.4m over his CAREER since 2014.

So no, there is no legitimate “Backup QB” in baseball and there isn’t really a relative pay scale to match it. But if we had to pick something close to it, I would say it is the role of the backup catcher.

The big question is – as a backup catcher – if you could sit on the bench and pick up an average of $1.57m Vs. going for a starters role and take the risk of injury/bad form in an attempt to pick up an average $6.9m, what would you do?

I know what I would do if I was Jimmy Garoppolo, get a nice hat, some warm gloves and enjoy the benches of Foxboro.

Garoppolo is paid $100 per “lucky rub”

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