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?

Free Agents

First let’s take a look at the top free-agent catchers still available on the market.

Yorvit Torrealba
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.

Rod Barajas
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.

Joe Janish
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

Dioner Navarro
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?

Jeff Mathis
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.

Chris Snyder
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.

Ryan Doumit
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.

Max Ramirez
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.

Brandon Inge
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?

Neil Walker
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.

In-house Possibilities

Omir Santos
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.

Henry Blanco
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.

Josh Thole
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.

Chris Coste
No.

Conclusion

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.

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. Walnutz15 January 20, 2010 at 8:59 am
    How far back into the Peacock Archives did you have to did for that Scouting Report on Janish?

    I know of a speedy centerfielder they could bring in “at a discount” (naturally) — he’s definitely got better baseball instincts than Angel Pagan.

    *wink*

  2. Harry Chiti January 20, 2010 at 9:18 am
    Good finish. The comments of Manuel and Warthen say that Santos is not the answer. Message to the two clowns posing in baseball uniforms. Wait until you get rid of a guy before you pound on him.
  3. isuzudude January 20, 2010 at 10:11 am
    If Santos winds up being the 2010 starter by default, is it possible he uses the harsh words by Warthen as motivation? Can his defensive liabilities be improved? From an amatuer’s perspective, I didn’t see Santos embarass himself behind the plate, and surely the fact that the Mets pitching staff reeked last year wasn’t ALL his fault. After all, he couldn’t possibly be to blame for injuries that befell Santana, Perez, Maine, Putz, Niese, and Nieve, which allowed subpar talents like Livan Hernandez, Tim Redding, Pat Misch, Lance Broadway and Ken Takahashi to get as much action as they did, not to mention forcing Bobby Parnell into a starter’s role with very little preparation. Seems to me that the criticism by management was just a way for them to deflect responsibility away from them for why the pitching was so inept.

    The two names listed above I definitely would not go after are Torrealba and Mathis. Since Torrealba had his contract voided by the Mets because of shoulder concerns 2 years ago, he’s gone on to throw out just 20% of base stealers, which is god awful, and his offense comes no where close to making up for his bad throwing arm. As for Mathis, though he’s known as a defensive specialist behind the plate, his stats reflect a different story. A career .985 fielding percentage with only a 23% caught stealing percentage. Not good, especially when your lifetime average and OBP are .200/.277. Leave him in LA.

    I think Barajas deserves a little more consideration. He’s obviously got good power, which may be enough to live with his anemically low OBP. He’s a sloth, yes, but so was Molina, and we were willing to live with him as a 1-yr stopgap, so why not Barajas? His defense isn’t great but also isn’t awful, and his career splits indicate he can hit righties just as good as lefties. He’s essentially Bengie Molina minus the batting average, but who knows if a switch to the NL where pitchers aren’t accustomed to him may give him an offensive advantage. He’s at least worth considerment.

    Obviously Doumit’s potential is nice, but he’s more a 1B in catcher’s clothing, and his injury history is rather scary. Navarro would be a very cagey acquisition, especially if it didn’t take much to get Tampa to release their grip. And Snyder is interesting as well, if not for his offensive prowess, then certainly for his age and his defense. A .999 career fielding percentage with a 32% caught stealing rate. Not too shabby. If Arizona doesn’t ask for too much, he’s also worth a look.

    If nothing else, the Mets should at least be looking to acquire a young catcher whose reputation focuses more on defense than offense, and who is someone the Mets can pencil in as a platoonmate with Josh Thole in 2011 and potentially beyond. Chris Snyder may fit that bill the best.

  4. 5w30 January 20, 2010 at 11:17 am
    Hobie Landrith.
    Might as well go with the first one.
    Could be better in his present state than this group of backstops.
    As C.D. Stengel once said, you’ve gotta have a catcher or there’s gonna be a lot of passed balls.
  5. John January 20, 2010 at 11:42 am
    Navarro is the only option listed that makes any sense. All of the others have serious health concerns or just are not very good. It is not ideal but Santos is probably the best of the bunch.
    As for Thole, I saw him play last summer and was sitting directly behind home plate (second row). He moved well on balls in the dirt, threw out a runner attmepting to steal second, and made a nice play on an attempted bunt. And he went two for three with two doubles and a walk with two RBI.
    So, it probably makes the most sense to start the season with Blanco and Santos with Thole in triple A and keep trying to trade for Navarro. If things are work, great. If not Thole could be a midseason call up. If the season is a washout (good possibility) let Thole get more experience in Triple A and look to 2011.
  6. isuzudude May 6, 2010 at 2:20 pm
    Hey Joe – are you considering taking back the nasty things you said about Barajas in this article after watching him pace the team in home runs and being an all-around positive presence through the first month of the season?
  7. joejanish May 7, 2010 at 2:08 pm
    ‘dude – what did I say that was nasty? Further, what did I state that hasn’t turned true?

    Barajas has more or less lived up to what I wrote, hasn’t he? Defense is adequate at best, OBP horrendous, baserunning slothlike, and his one positive has been homeruns.

    If you want to add in the fact that he handles pitchers and calls games better than Omir Santos, OK, but that’s what an MLB catcher is supposed to do at minimum.

    And BTW Bengie Molina is hitting well over .300 right now with an eye-popping .400 OBP.

    Both Bengie and Barajas are obviously starting the season hot, and will level off as the season progresses. Which “hot” would you prefer — Bengie’s or Rod’s?

  8. isuzudude May 7, 2010 at 2:42 pm
    I shouldn’t have said nasty. Because you weren’t nasty, you were honest. I just know how down you were on Barajas, both before and after the Mets signed him, and thought maybe his hot start has changed your attitude towards him a little. Even though he’s hitting less than his weight and his OBP is an eyesore, he’s still been one of the more positive stories that has been produced by the Mets thus far in 2010 – particularly on offense.

    Obviously I’d much prefer Bengie’s hot start, but I don’t think it’s a fair comparison, as Barajas was signed on a minor league contract, while Molina would have demanded more than the $4.5 million the Giants gave him just to consider playing for NY. So I think the Mets are getting an even bang for their buck. Plus I can much more easily see Barajas keeping at his current pace, as Bengie’s numbers are just off the charts in comparison to his career norms. The only thing Barajas is doing more than usual is hitting home runs; but even so, if Barajas finishes the year with 20+ home runs, which is a distinct possibility, will it not have been a good signing? Especially considering he’s playing for peanuts?