Catcher: Now What?
You know the saying, “be careful what you wish for — you just may get it” ?
We all wished the Mets would fail in their attempt to sign Bengie Molina, and our prayers were answered. But, now who will be the backstop?
First let’s take a look at the top free-agent catchers still available on the market.
Torrealba remains available because a) he stinks, and b) the only team that values him — the Rockies — got tired of waiting for him and signed someone much better, Miguel Olivo. Since the Mets had all their eggs in the Bengie Molina basket, they ignored Olivo, who was the most athletic and arguably the best defensive everyday backstop available via free agency. Again — be careful what you wish for, because in losing out on Molina, the Mets may be dumb enough to sign Torrealba, who is merely a younger, less-skilled, and more injury-prone version of Molina.
Again, I invoke the “be careful what you wish for”, because Barajas is certainly worse than Bengie Molina, and may be worse than Torrealba. His one strength is the ability to hit homeruns — though, one would never compare him to Mike Piazza in that area. In fact, he might not even be as prolific as Ramon Castro when it comes to power, but he’s just as slow on the bases and similarly nothing special on defense. At BEST, he’s a platoon player, and his .258 OBP makes Bengie Molina look like a leadoff man.
The 39-year-old blogger has been working out in his parents’ basement all winter, waiting for “the call”. His back problems and slow bat are concerns, but he hustles, is tough as nails, handles pitchers well and owns the strongest arm (1.8 pop time) on the market. Unfortunately, the Mets probably can’t afford him.
On the Trading Block
Once the Rays traded for — and signed — Kelly Shoppach, Navarro became expendable. However, they’ve been unable to unload him, mainly because there aren’t many teams in need of a catcher. The Mets, however, would be wise to make a deal for this 26-year-old, switch-hitting, former All-Star. He had a bad year offensively in 2009, which is concerning, but it also means his value is at an all-time low. At worst, the Mets would have a young player who is as good or better both defensively and offensively as Torrealba or Barajas, and certainly more athletic. At best, he recaptures the magic of 2008 and provides offensive support the Mets haven’t seen from the position since 2006. Did I mention he’s Venezuelan? That should seal the deal for Johan Santana, shouldn’t it?
I don’t really know if Mathis would be available — I’m only guessing that he might be available since the Angels would prefer Mike Napoli behind the plate. The problem is that Mathis is only a decent catcher defensively whose value is supposed to be his bat — but he’s regressed offensively and his weaknesses become more glaring the more he plays. He’s kind of like Navarro, except that Navarro has a strong arm while Mathis’ compares to Mike Piazza’s.
The Diamondbacks are looking to move Snyder and his contract while he still has some value. He’s a big, burly guy who calls a good game and has shown a little pop and good patience at the plate. The problem is, Snyder is coming off a 2009 season marred with back problems — and those tend to be chronic, particularly for receivers (I speak from experience). If healthy, he’s an asset, but I get the feeling he’d be the catching version of Jeff D’Amico.
Doumit can hit, but isn’t much behind the plate. Further, he’s injury prone — like Snyder, he had some back problems in 2009 (as well as a nagging wrist injury). I like him, but the Mets were pretty clear about improving their defense behind the plate so obtaining Doumit would go against that goal.
The Rangers tried to trade Ramirez to the Red Sox for Mike Lowell earlier in the winter, so we can presume he’s available. He has power potential, has shown plate discipline in the minors, is only 25, and is Venezuelan. On the down side, despite decent fundamentals, he’s below average defensively and not assertive — that said, he compares to Omir Santos. Can he develop leadership skills with experience? Maybe. Is he ahead of Santos right now? Probably. Is he good enough to fulfill the Mets’ needs? Probably not.
The Tigers are clearly rebuilding, and Inge could be available as a salary dump. He didn’t catch at all last season, but did squat behind the dish 60 times in 2008. I don’t know if he could — or would want to be — an everyday catcher again, but he could be a platoon partner / supersub filling in at 1B, 3B, and the OF. Maybe pair him with the switch-hitting Doumit, who struggles from the right side?
I floated this idea last week, and it is a longshot. Even if the Mets thought about acquiring the former #1 pick, it likely would take Walker at least half a year in the minors to get back up to speed behind the plate — with no guarantee he’d be performing at MLB level either behind or at the plate. I like him better as a long-term project than a right-now solution.
The man who beat out Matt Wieters for the Topps All-Rookie Team is the current favorite. However, the Mets have done everything in their power to push him aside, and for good reason — he’s not particularly adept at any aspect of the game, other than hitting dramatic, memorable homeruns against great closers in Fenway Park. Seriously though, the Mets could do worse; I’d rather they start the season with Santos than sign Barajas or Torrealba, for example.
The 40-year-old Blanco was signed to be a defensive backup, despite having arm problems. Since his arm issues will obviously affect his defense, and he’s awful offensively, it’s hard to figure out his value. Without question, the Mets are in deep you-know-what if he is the Opening Day starter.
Please people, be realistic. We all love the kid. He’s home-grown, he has a fantastic attitude, he looks like a tough cookie. But he’s not even close to owning Major League catching skills, and is at best comparable to Luis Castillo circa 2008 offensively. That’s not to say he won’t eventually evolve into something much more. Rather, he is right now not ready for prime time.
All of a sudden, things are looking scary behind the plate. Although Bengie Molina would have been an awful choice because of his weak OBP, age, and slothlike movement, he looks a lot better than Torrealba and Barajas. The trade market is slightly more promising, but far from providing an ideal solution. Considering the comments from Jerry Manuel and Dan Warthen, we can presume that Omir Santos is not the answer. So who will catch for the Mets in 2010?
Hard to say. Based on what we’ve heard from the Mets, it seems that Torrealba and Barajas are very real possibilities (ouch), and Snyder could be considered. Personally, I’d prefer to see them make a deal for Navarro or Mathis, and hope for the best. Neither are ideal solutions, but faced with the alternatives, I’ll take their health, youth, relatively cheap cost, and history of moderate success.