What Kelly Shoppach Brings to the Mets
In case you missed it, the Mets acquired catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Boston Red Sox, in return for a player to be named later.
There was a time that I thought trading for Shoppach made a lot of sense for the Mets — back in March of 2008, when he was 28 years old (check out that post and note a certain LHP that was on the block at the time; shame on you, Walnutz!). I also thought it would have been great if the Mets traded for Shoppach in 2009, when the Indians dealt him to the Rays instead. But of course, I wasn’t alone — many Mets fans and bloggers felt that Shoppach would have been a nice addition behind the dish, back when he was on the right side of 30.
Finally, the Mets get Shoppach, but he’s now 32 years old; he’ll be 33 shortly after Opening Day in 2013. Considering the Mets are presumably rebuilding with youth, does this deal make sense?
“He’s going to catch certainly against the lefthanders. That’s one of the reasons why we got him,” said Collins. “I know one of the reasons we want to take a look at him the last six weeks here is to see how he’ll fit.”
So, Shoppach will be taking time away from the still-developing Josh Thole. Thole, by the way, turns 26 at the end of October; I’m not sure how much better he’s going to get at this point. Formative years are generally from the teens through the mid-20s, and we haven’t seen much progress from Thole over the last year and a half. That said, it’s difficult to theorize that Shoppach can be a “mentor” to young Joshua. In fact, I wonder if this is step one in creating a 2013 platoon that does not include Thole.
You may be wondering why the Mets would want a thirty-something catcher in the middle of a rebuilding phase. There are two very strong reasons: first, there simply aren’t many good young catchers available on the trade market — any that are, likely are unobtainable by the Mets. Second, the Mets’ future success depends heavily on young pitching — Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Jeurys Familia in particular. Those youngsters need a solid, knowledgeable, confident, experienced leader behind the plate to properly develop. Josh Thole, unfortunately, is not that guy. We don’t know for sure that Shoppach is that guy, but that’s why he’s spending the final six weeks of the season with the Mets — to find out if he is, and if so, maybe the Mets can put together a strong enough contract to keep him around for 2013.
Further, the Mets might want to see just how much of a difference it is for their young pitchers to have an experienced backstop guiding them. Shoppach has always been valued for his ability to handle pitchers and call a game — two elements that have been more or less nonexistent from Mets catchers for the past several years. There’s a great article on Shoppach’s preparation and handling of pitchers from the Tampa Bay Tribune (definitely worth your time — read it). In that article, Joe Maddon said, among other things:
“All of that stuff is pretty much as advertised,” Maddon said. “He gets into it. He has strong opinions, and I like that. And they’re rooted in him doing his homework. …
“He’s going to bring an element to us, in regard to how he studies and how he approaches the pitchers on a daily basis, that I’m kind of liking. And I think the pitchers will react to that favorably, also.”
And from select Rays pitchers:
“He made me do some things I might not normally do (in terms of pitch selection and usage),” veteran reliever Dan Wheeler said. “He challenges you as a pitcher, and he gives you the confidence to go out there and make those pitches.”
Now, that article was your typical spring training puff piece, but there are bits and quotes in there that make me feel really good about Shoppach joining the Mets — even if it’s for only the last month and a half of the season. If you visit this site often, you know I put more value on the catching position than can be measred by stats, and I believe strongly that the Mets pitching staff and defense can reach its full potential only with a solid catcher leading them. Shoppach might be that catcher.
Does this trade mean the Mets get into the postseason? Of course not; we might not even see a significant improvement in the win-loss record. But from this point forward, we shouldn’t be looking at the results as much as the process. If bringing in a “real” Major League catcher improves the process, then there is reason to believe the results will improve in 2013.
What do you think? Do you like this deal? Could you care less? If nothing else, express your choice for the PTBNL in the comments.