* C Erik Kratz (pictured) and RHP Liam Hendriks have been dealt by the Toronto Blue Jays to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for INF Danny Valencia. CBN's Alexis Brudnicki caught up with Kratz in Buffalo. .... 2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in Minors … Canadians in college summer ball …. Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent
By Alexis Brudnicki
Buffalo, NY – This year has been the craziest of Erik Kratz’s career, and that was even before he learned Monday night that the Toronto Blue Jays had traded him – along with right-hander Liam Hendriks – to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for infielder Danny Valencia.
“I’m really excited,” the Buffalo Bisons-turned-Royals catcher said. “It’s a team that’s still making a push for the playoffs and hopefully I can help that. Obviously, I understand what role I play on the team and [Kansas City] has Salvador Perez, they have their starter, and so I want to fit in and keep the train moving and not get in the way.”
The 34-year-old backstop has spent parts of 13 seasons in the minor leagues and pieces of five years in the big leagues, but he’s never been between the two levels more than he has over the last four months in the Blue Jays organization, with his options exercised on numerous occasions.
“It’s less than ideal,” Kratz said. “It’s hard because last year [in the Phillies organization] I had options and didn’t move up and down. I had pretty much a similar type of year, similar type of numbers, and then you get traded for. Part of the value of being traded for was because I had options, but I had a whole year where it didn’t really matter. This year it came into play and now they’ve really used it.”
Husband to Sarah and father of seven- and five-year-old boys and a 22-month old daughter, the most straining part of the season so far for Kratz has been the logistics of moving an entire family back and forth across the border between their apartment in Buffalo and their apartment in Toronto.
“It’s so hard,” Kratz said. “It’s a lot harder on my wife and my kids dealing with it. My son today said, ‘I wish we were in the Toronto place.’ That’s usually how it works out, he wants to be in the Toronto apartment when we’re in Buffalo and he wants to be in the Buffalo apartment when we’re in Toronto.
“But it’s hardest on my wife. For me, baseball-wise it is what it is, but packing up my family is really hard. The kids have toys, they have clothes, and fortunately we don’t have to take too much kitchen stuff or food…we don’t take furniture but we have a crib, we have stuff. Now, my wife is homeschooling so there’s a lot of stuff with that. We need a bigger car.”
For his next move, from Buffalo to Kansas City as the Royals begin a series at home against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, Kratz is excited that someone else will be taking care of the details.
“Fortunately, the big-league team with the Royals has to get me and everything out there,” he said. “There will be some logistical things [like] we still have stuff in Toronto and the stuff from here in Buffalo so we’ll see what happens. I would like to have half of it sent home to Virginia, but we’ll see.
“First and foremost are my car and my family and I have to go out tomorrow. That’s hard because I have to be out there for the game tomorrow…if we can all fly together that would be ideal, but that’s probably not going to happen.”
No matter when they are reunited, Sarah is looking forward to the new opportunity her husband has been afforded.
“She’s definitely excited that it’s the big leagues,” Kratz said. “Triple-A is still Triple-A and unless you’re living at your house at home, it’s still Triple-A. What’s the point of continuing to play if it’s only Triple-A? Everybody here wants to be in the big leagues, so that’s a positive. It’s the big leagues.”
Grateful for the chance, Kratz was completely unprepared to be moved as the trade deadline approached.
“It always blindsides me,” the Pennsylvania-born catcher said. “Even this off-season when I was traded here they called me and told me I was traded and I thought, 'really?' Not that I didn’t think I was good enough to be traded, but you usually don’t see backup catchers being part of trades.
“That’s something that’s cool. It’s a cool opportunity to hopefully go somewhere where they wanted you. I thought they wanted me here but I was more of depth here and that’s just what happens. Hopefully it’s a new start and it’s exciting.”
Originally drafted by the Blue Jays in the 29th round in 2002, Kratz was happy to return to the organization this off-season. With the Bisons this year, the man behind the dish hit .299/.354/.517 in 27 International League games with three home runs, 10 doubles and 17 RBI. He appeared in 34 games this year at the major-league level, getting just 84 plate appearances over that time.
“It was better than last time I was in the Blue Jays organization,” Kratz said. “It was good. Getting an opportunity to be in the big leagues is great, and obviously here in Triple-A there’s a great group of guys. It was good. It was definitely a better opportunity and a better time than the first time I came through [with] the Blue Jays.”
Looking forward to his next stop, Kratz is excited to see some familiar faces in the Kansas City clubhouse.
“I played with a couple of those players when I played for Team USA back in 2010,” Kratz said. “I kept in touch with them but there were actually a few guys from that team over there so I know a few of them.”
On the USA Baseball roster with Kratz for the Pan Am qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico four years ago were Royals left-hander Danny Duffy and Kansas City infielders Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. Even with a couple of recognizable names, Kratz will have to take on the task of learning an entirely new staff of pitchers, something he felt like he did frequently with the Blue Jays and Bisons this year.
“Every time I came down [to Buffalo] there was somebody new who’s starting,” he said. “But that’s part of it. It’s a little different than an outfielder or even a relief pitcher. They have one position, one job, so as a catcher it’s something I’ve worked on with the guys.”
No matter what lies ahead for the rest of Kratz’s season, there’s no denying that this year has been crazy.
“One year with the Phillies I moved up and down four times, but I was more of a fill-in guy and there was an injury one time and then two guys had kids during the season so I went up during those times for their paternity leave,” Kratz said. “But this season has been the most of we don’t know what tomorrow holds.”
-- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis