2009 Analysis: Omir Santos

omir-santos-commonsIt’s safe to say that Omir Santos exceeded expectations in 2009.

Santos was signed as a minor league free agent in mid-January, an under-the-radar move lost among announcements such as Casey Fossum, Bobby Kielty, and Valerio de Los Santos — not unlike a similar transaction that brought Ramon Castro to New York in the winter of 2004. At the time, even those who noticed the signing figured Santos was simply an extra guy to catch all those pitchers invited to spring training. Santos was competing with Rene Rivera, Robinson Cancel, Salomon Manriquez, Josh Thole, and others for a third-string backup job that didn’t exist.

But Brian Schneider struggled with back ailments all spring, something about Santos caught the eye of Jerry Manuel, and the rest is history.

Santos began the season as Ramon Castro’s backup, but eventually became the unofficial starter — making Castro expendable once Schneider returned from the DL. Manuel’s preference for Santos was made loud and clear in a mysterious pinch-hitting move on April 30th, and was the beginning of the end for Castro.

All things considered, sending Castro to Chicago and keeping Santos made sense, since they are essentially the same player — except Omir is more durable, less expensive, and not as good a joke-teller.

Considering that Omir Santos performed admirably as the Mets’ starting catcher for a decent portion of the season, he was a fantastic find off the scrap heap. But we now must evaluate him as a starting MLB catcher, because that’s what the Mets need in 2010.

As a receiver, Santos is below average to average in all areas. The way he sets up behind the plate — moving into position late and not always setting his glove as a target — is OK for most pitchers, slightly disrupting to others. He is at best adequate at blocking balls in the dirt, and equally adequate to average when it comes to throwing — meaning, if the pitchers do their job of preventing big jumps, he should nail about 20-30% of baserunners. Some may even consider that “above average”, which is sad (when Johnny Bench’s percentage dropped down into the low 30s, he was considered washed up!). In any case, he does have the arm strength and enough quickness to throw out a decent percentage of the runners he should be throwing out.

We don’t know too much about his pitch calling, but some insiders have termed it “so-so”. He’s only been in the NL for a year so he doesn’t have a vast knowledge of opposing hitters. Let’s call it “neutral” — neither an asset nor a detriment. Same goes for handling pitchers; I can’t say that he made anyone on the pitching staff better — the best I can say is he probably didn’t hold back the majority of the staff. My analysis of him as an “on-field general” — meaning, taking charge of the defense — is similar. He didn’t get in anyone’s way, but it’s hard to say he was someone who the other 8 defenders looked to for direction.

Offensively, Omir was strong in executing the hit-and-run and hitting the ball the other way to advance runners. I don’t recall him bunting, though the final stats say he sacrificed twice. His batting average was an ordinary .260, his OPB a poor .296, and his slugging a below-averge .381. He did seem to have a knack for the clutch hit and a penchant for driving in runners, as evidenced by his 40 RBI in just over 300 ABs (he drove in 16% of the men on base when he came to the plate, which seems about average for a typical catcher). In short, he’s not terribly productive with the bat — though it might be enough if he was more impressive defensively (like, on a Yadier Molina level).

Omir’s 9th-inning homer against Jonathan Papelbon at Fenway Park will forever be etched in minds of Mets fans, and may cloud the judgment of those too emotionally attached. If you judge him independently of that blast, you may start to question whether he’s strong enough all-around to catch regularly for a championship club. As a backup, he’s able and adequate. For full time work, though, the Mets probably want someone who is either stronger all-around or is comparable save for at least one significant strength.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude October 27, 2009 at 9:47 am
    Very fair analysis, Joe. Santos certainly isn’t of the caliber of Yadier Molina or Carlos Ruiz, but he also isn’t the downright scrub some fans would have you believe either. Whether it be here or on other websites, I’ve seen it written over and over that the Mets screwed up when they gave Castro away for nothing and opted to keep Santos. But as you mention above, the logic added up in the Mets’ favor to deal Castro and go with Santos. I also get the feeling people are going to comment how the Mets need to upgrade over Santos for 2010 and mention names like Jason Varitek, Bengie Molina, and Ramon Hernandez as possible replacements. But let’s awaken to reality, folks. Firstly, though the Mets have bragged about having all this money to spend on the team this winter, their pockets aren’t bottomless pits, and any free agent veteran that’s brought in is probably going to have to be overpayed to acquire and not worth the money in the longrun anyway. And with the holes in the pitching staff, outfield, and firstbase to fill this offseason, money is going to need to be budgeted for those areas moreso than catcher. Secondly, though he’s no prospect, 2009 was still Santos’ rookie season with a new team. He was still learning and developing as Jerry thrust him into the lineup on a daily basis. Given a second season with the same franchise and pitching staff could go a long way in seeing Santos’ production escalate. And thirdly, no one is campaigning for Santos to be given 500 ABs. At best, he’s a platoon player who can cheaply hold down the fort until Josh Thole is deemed ready for full time duty, or until a big ticket catcher is landed who the Mets can count on for multiple years to come. Those of the Varitek/Molina/Hernandez mold do not fit the bill. They would be just another of the ‘short-sighted, band-aid fixes’ that the Mets have become notorious for over the past handful of years. In the meantime, throw Thole back down to AAA for seasoning, and give Santos a cheap, left-handed platoon partner who he can split a 162 game season with. To me, I see that as the best course of action.
  2. Harry Chiti October 27, 2009 at 11:17 am
    isuzudude I agree about Varitek/Molina/Hernandez. Unless the Mets can pick up a decent catcher in a multi player deal the options for ’10 demonstrate the sad state of the organization. Bad options and no options. I suspect the Mets will force feed Thole to Queens and then Jerry will sour on him as he does most of his younger players as Thole does not have the catching time necessary to perform at the big league level. They’d be better off giving Schneider one year deal and worry about positions where there are decent options to chase down.
  3. Brian October 27, 2009 at 7:40 pm
    I pretty much feel the only lefty hitting catcher I would consider for next year, and only one year, is Varitek if he leaves Boston. Regardless, I think a Molina/Santos combo would be useful. Molina could give his input to both Santos and Thole, maybe speeding up Thole’s arrival in Queens. He would be an asset defensively and for the pitchers, and has not been slouching offensively in SF. I would take him for one year with an option for a second because there is no guarantee of Thole by 2011 and no reason to doubt Molina’s talent yet.
  4. isuzudude October 28, 2009 at 10:12 am
    Brian:
    The biggest issue I have with signing Molina is that he’s a type A free agent, meaning that if the Giants offer him arbitration and he declines, the Mets have to surrender a draft pick to sign him. Is it worth giving up a top pick to get Molina for one year during a transitional period of the franchise? By himself, Molina does not make the Mets very much better than 2009, and yet the money it would take to sign him could be used for a longer term solution, like in a trade-and-sign for Roy Halladay, a trade for Javy Vazquez or Carl Crawford, or a free agent signing of John Lackey. I just think there are so many more glaring holes this team needs to spend money on fixing before addressing their catching situation, and many wiser solutions to improve at catcher besides signing Molina.