Free Agent Evaluation: Catchers

Despite already having a competent backup in Omir Santos, the Mets have signed two backup catchers — Chris Coste and Henry Blanco — and are in the market for a starting backstop. We know Omar Minaya has his eye on Bengie Molina, but he’s not the only one out there. Let’s go through the top targets.

Bengie Molina
Minaya offered him a 3-year deal in 2005, but Molina left Omar waiting at the altar. Four years later, Molina is predictably four years older and his defensive skills significantly diminished. His offense was never great but was considered a bonus when he was among the best catchers in MLB. Now, his bat is directly tied to his value. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much to offer offensively beyond homeruns, and the Mets are desperate for homeruns, so we’ll likely see a contract offer that overvalues that part of his game. Yes, homers are great, and the Mets need more, but are they worth the expense of a miniscule OBP, slothlike baserunning, and quick at-bats? Another question: who else is interested in Bengie Molina? I fear this is another case of the Mets bidding against themselves (see Perez,Oliver).

Ivan Rodriguez
Pudge brings pretty much the same assets as Molina, but can probably be had for less money and a shorter commitment.

Rod Barajas
Barajas is similar to Molina in that his sole offensive value is homerun power and his defensive skills are declining with age — at 34, he’s a year younger than Molina.

Miguel Olivo
Like Molina and Barajas, his main offensive value is the ability to put balls over fences. However, he’s more athletic than both, and at 31 still has his defensive skills — particularly a cannon for an arm. What he lacks is postseason experience and some think he’s not as polished in terms of handling pitchers.

Yorvit Torrealba
I don’t see Torrealba giving the Mets the time of day after they screwed him in 2007. At one time he had a strong arm but injuries have obliterated that advantage. Offensively, he offers little, and his durability is a major question mark — despite being “only” 30 years old.

Jason Kendall
Stop laughing. While it’s true Kendall’s power is barely better than Luis Castillo’s, he is extremely durable, adept behind the dish, good at handling pitchers, and can run the bases. His ability to get on base has regressed with age, but he still puts the ball in play and has good bat control. He wouldn’t be the worst choice, and he should be more affordable than some of the other options. What it comes down to is whether you want the homers from Molina or a more rounded — yet equally below-average — offensive game.

Conclusion
The selections are far from ideal, and the Mets are desperate — a potentially volatile combination when it comes to valuing the candidates and then negotiating a deal. Furtherng that danger is the “general consensus”, which says that the Mets need more power — therefore the one-dimensional offensive catchers such as Molina and Barajas will be overvauled. The 2011 free agent class is equally shallow, but potentially has a few more impressive names (Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, Gerald Laird). I’d be more inclined to sign someone to a one-year deal and remain flexible going forward. On paper, Olivo and Kendall appear to be the least risky options, particularly on short, inexpensive contracts. I’d prefer someone other than Molina simply to retain flexibility (i.e., if an upgrade becomes available in the near future).

Which leads me to my next point: the free agent market is not the only place to find backstops. For example, Dioner Navarro, Ryan Doumit, and others are currently on the trading block. And just because the Mets don’t acquire a catcher in the winter doesn’t mean they can’t get one after Opening Day (remember Mike Piazza?). Sometimes the best moves you make are the ones you don’t.

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. gary s. December 5, 2009 at 1:23 pm
    i guess omar wants to get into the guinness book of records for signing all the lousy washed up catchers in mlb and having them on the same team at one time.nice job, wilpons for extending this clown of a gm.
  2. Harry Chiti December 6, 2009 at 1:51 pm
    As Casey reminded us in 1962, you need a catcher. And none of them are very good and some are very bad. I don’t want any to be given a deal longer than one year. Unless and until Victor Martinez and Joe Mauer are signed by their teams, we need to give the GM and owner no easy excuse not to go after these two guys who are actualy extremely good.