Free Agent Focus: Catchers

A few weeks ago, Sandy Alderson said the Mets will seek a veteran backstop, as he is not convinced that Josh Thole can be an everyday catcher:

“We’re looking for more catching,” Alderson said. “I think it would be a little bit premature if I were to make a judgment on Thole without ever actually having seen him play.”

He wants to “see” Thole play? Can’t he just look at Thole’s numbers on Paul DePodesta’s computer? Weird.

Since then, though, manager Terry Collins announced that Thole would be the team’s #1 catcher in 2011.

Now I’m really confused; isn’t Collins supposed to be taking orders from above, and executing the plan set forth by Alderson?

Regardless of whether Thole is the starter, the Mets will need a second backstop — and presumably are in the market for a veteran. Even with Mike Nickeas and Omir Santos around, the Mets need some depth.

However, the free-agent pickings are slim; there are a total of 14 MLB catchers currently available. Let’s have a look at them.

[TABLE=53]

Not a terribly inspiring lot, eh?

Ausmus has been hired by the Padres to a front office position, so it’s unlikely he’ll be playing in 2011.

Zaun is a favorite of the sabermetric set for his historically good OBP and occasional flashes of power. However, he missed all of 2010 after shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum (sound familiar?). He’d likely be a great mentor to Thole and provide some offense but it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to throw out runners attempting to steal.

Varitek would be similarly good in a mentoring role but I don’t see him leaving Boston for a team unlikely to reach the postseason.

Molina, Olivo, and Pierzynski would seem to be outside the Mets’ budget, and prevent Thole from getting reps behind the dish. The same could be said for Torrealba, who in addition to wanting to play regularly, has had bad experiences with the Mets in the past.

Gerald Laird is a defensive-minded catcher who I’ve always liked for his skills behind the dish, but he’s been a terrible hitter through most of his 8-year career. He takes a long stride, drops his hands, and swings with a severe uppercut, so I doubt a change to Citi Field would be of much help to him.

Treanor, Moeller, and LaRue don’t do anything for me, and never did. Insert your Misty May comment here.

Barajas is unlikely to return to Flushing, and is attracting interest from Boston, among others. There’s some chance that Blanco returns, however, particularly if Terry Collins values his work. I have no idea what Collins thinks of Blanco, so can’t comment either way.

Zaun would seem to be the ideal choice, if he’s not too expensive and is willing to play for a team not likely to be in the playoff hunt. In a recent interview on XM Radio, he spoke of an interest in playing for Tampa Bay. No idea whether the Rays have mutual interest, but they already have John Jaso, Dioner Navarro, and Kelly Shoppach. Speaking of, the Rays are unlikely to keep both Navarro and Shoppach, so one of them could be available as well.

What do you think? Will the Mets go after one of the above backstops? Or will they sign a minor league free agent, such as Michael Barrett (who played in Buffalo last year)? Or will they go the trade route? Let us know in the comments.

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. Matthew Cerrone November 29, 2010 at 7:23 am
    Last week on WFAN, Alderson said Josh Thole is fully capable of being a starting catcher.
    • Joe Janish November 29, 2010 at 5:42 pm
      Thanks Matt, I didn’t hear Alderson say that.

      Which begs the question: when did Alderson get the chance to see Thole play and thus change his mind? Maybe he watched video from the 2010 season?

      Or was he just going on whatever Collins told him plus the stats DePodesta’s MacBook spit out?

      In any case glad to hear that he’s changed course and will give Thole a shot in 2011. Considering the difficulty in finding a good young catcher these days the Mets’ best bet is to see what they have in Thole.

  2. steve November 29, 2010 at 7:42 am
    but, does “fully capable” equate to being guaranteed to be the starter? Ollie is “fully capable” of being a quality MLB pitcher, but that doesn’t mean he will be this year.
  3. Paul November 29, 2010 at 8:30 am
    Honestly, the budget for additions is so thin this year that it’s no fun to speculate about who the Mets will/should get.

    When you’re discussing the merits of Greg Zaun vs. Henry Blanco vs. Gerald Laird, I’d rather just leave it to the folks getting paid to make baseball decisions.

    • Joe Janish November 29, 2010 at 11:03 pm
      Leave it to the folks getting paid to make the decisions? What’s the fun in that ?????

      May as well just shut down the blog ….

      :-)

  4. DRTRADE November 29, 2010 at 9:14 am
    It time to give the opportunity to the players of Minor league system. Dont sign players develop players. Sandy need to trade this off season and move what ever need to move to trade Beltran, Reyes and Castillo / Need to eat Oliver Perez Salary.

    It Time To Trade!!!! It Time To Trade!!!!!

    • Joe Janish November 29, 2010 at 5:43 pm
      I’m sure that’s the plan but unfortunately the Mets don’t have any catchers in their minor league system who are near MLB ready; in fact I’m not sure they have any catchers who are considered future MLBers. So for the time being they need to look outside the organization for stopgaps.
  5. Larry Smith November 29, 2010 at 9:14 am
    Zaun would not be a good fit in that he’s a switchhitter but one (a la Wally Backman) who really can’t hit righthanded. Ideally you’d like lefthanded Thole paired with a veteran righthanded batter. On that unimpressive list I think Olivo would be the best fit.
    • Joe Janish November 29, 2010 at 5:50 pm
      Larry you bring up a good point if you consider only Zaun’s most recent splits. Over the course of his career his numbers have been fairly balanced LH vs. RH. I have no idea why his performance as a RH hitter dropped dramatically in ’08 and ’09 but if you look at ’07 and ’06 the splits were very opposite (good RH, bad LH).

      Further I think the main goals of getting Zaun would be defense, mentoring, and offense, in that order.

  6. Joe A. November 29, 2010 at 4:01 pm
    Olivo wants to start and he is set to make too much money to be a back-up (he will get around $4 million if he accepts arbitration from the Jays).

    If the Rays non-tender Navarro, he would be my top choice. He’s still young enough to have some upside and he hits better from the right side.

    Barajas is my second choice.

  7. NCMetFan November 29, 2010 at 10:07 pm
    What about Flores (?) from the Nationals. He was a well regarded Mets minor leaguer until he was left off the 40 man roster and the Nats took him about 3 or 4 years ago. I know he has had two injury filled years, is he ready to return and worth consideration? As I recall he is a righty.
    • Joe Janish November 29, 2010 at 11:08 pm
      Jesus Flores is certainly someone to look into. He is currently playing in Venezuela though the latest word is that he’s out with a strained calf — which is not considered to be a serious injury.

      I would be mildly surprised if the Nats made him available, even though they already have Wilson Ramos. If I were the Nats, I’d wait to see if Ramos was the real deal, while also giving Flores a chance to prove he’s healthy and building his trade value (assuming they decide Ramos and not Flores is the future).

      Also I’m not sure how steep a price Flores would command, even while his health is considered risky.

      Still, you bring up a good point. My guess is the Nats will deal away one of their three catchers before April (Pudge Rodriguez being the other), though a trade may happen later in the spring rather than earlier.

  8. Kenny November 29, 2010 at 10:16 pm
    Guys, I’m not qualified to blog about the Mets, therefore I will leave it up to the people the Mets hire to make those decisions. Let’s give them some time to see what they blog about in 2011 before we start judging them. It’s a new era of evidence-based blogging.

    In Matt we trust.

  9. TheDZA December 3, 2010 at 5:29 am
    I see Russell Martin is now available as the Dodgers have non-tendered. Although I’m sure he’d be looking to play everyday after the last season’s 97 games (hip injury cut him short).
    Apparently he’ll be ready for ST.

    What does everyone think? I think he’s a gamer and although his last REALLY good season was 2007 he is still only 27 yrs old – he could help while Thole makes the job his which he surely will.