It’s clear the Mets need a catcher. Actually, they need two catchers — a starter, and a backup. Josh Thole is a really nice guy, and he works really hard, but he’s not an everyday catcher on a championship club, and he might not even be a backup on a championship club. Most second-string backstops offer at least one plus MLB tool; generally, it’s either a strong defensive skill or a power bat. Sometimes, a second-string catcher is just average all-around. Unfortunately, Thole meets none of these characteristics. Offensively, he offers zero power and has steadily regressed in every other batting skill. Defensively, he’s hit his ceiling as below-average all-around; some would argue that his game calling, lack of leadership, and inability to handle pitchers is detrimental.
The Mets might try to trade for a catcher, but right now we’ll do some window-shopping on the free-agent market.
The Mets have already missed out on Russell Martin (which is fine, because he was too expensive), David Ross (more a backup than a starter), Gerald Laird (see Ross), and Dioner Navarro (who would have been a nice guy to have in camp to vie for a backup spot). Here is who is left as of this writing:
Lots of power, not much defensively. But, he’s better behind the plate than Thole, and he’ll hit 20-25 homeruns with a .800+ OPS. His average dropped considerably in 2012, possibly due to the after-effect of getting beaned. Assuming he can come back from the fear and/or mechanical adjustment resulting from the beaning, he should be a .270 hitter again. Of course, the Mets couldn’t possibly afford him, but again, this is window shopping.
Pierzynski is the kind of guy you hate — unless he’s on your side. The 35-year-old hit a career-high 27 homers for the White Sox last season, an astounding jump from his usual 8-10. Is there a natural explanation?
Defensively, Pierzynski has always been adequate. Tough as nails, generally good with pitchers and takes charge. He lacks arm strength, isn’t the greatest at blocking balls in the dirt, and his Type-A personality can rub some people the wrong way.
As recently as two years ago, Olivo was a fairly athletic, above-average defensive catcher with a strong arm and good pop. However, in post-PEDs MLB, the athletic skills of most men tend to decline — some dramatically — in their age 32-35 years. Such is the case with Olivo, who caught only 87 games for the Mariners last year and posted a putrid .620 OPS (though, that was still 40 points better than Josh Thole). There was a time when Olivo’s athleticism and high energy made up for his woeful lack of fundamentals and a hitting approach that makes Jeff Francoeur seem disciplined. However, that time is long gone. If the Mets sign Olivo for 2013, expect to be incredibly frustrated in a Ronny Paulino sort of way.
Been there, done that.
See Schneider, above.
I really, really wanted the Mets to acquire Shoppach six years ago. And five years ago. Oh, and four years ago, as well as three and two years ago. It was nice to finally see him in orange and blue last year, but like Olivo, Shoppach’s skills are deteriorating as he moves further and further beyond age 30. His feet are slower, which in turn makes his blocking sloppy and his throws to second less than par. However, he is still good at receiving pitches, handling pitchers, pitch-calling, and taking charge of the game. Offensively, he’s a mistake hitter who will once in a while pop one over the fence, but he doesn’t provide much more. In other words, he’s Rod Barajas, which makes him a solid choice as a backup catcher, but not a starter.
A solid defender with no offensive skills. AAA fodder or a decent backup to a plus-offensive catcher.
Mets fans may never forget — nor forgive — Omar Minaya’s mistake in allowing Flores to be plucked by the Nationals as a 21-year-old in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft. As it turned out, Flores’ career has been riddled with injuries and missed opportunities; he’s never played in more than 90 MLB games in a season. Last year he hit .213 with a .577 OPS in 83 games and 296 plate appearances for Washington, who non-tendered him a few days ago. Since he’s still under 30, maybe the Mets should give him a flyer and finally quell the anger of the fan base by giving him a shot. What do they have to lose?
Soto may be the best catcher available after Pierzynski and Napoli. He appeared to have a promising career after belting 23 homers and winning Rookie of the Year honors as a 25-year-old in 2008. That turned out to be his career year, and he’ll turn 30 by spring training. While his offense disappeared, Soto still has decent defensive skills and handles pitchers well. He might be in the Mets’ price range, but then again, maybe not — particularly if the Yankees enter the bidding.
I think that’s everyone. If I missed someone, let me know in the comments. Otherwise, post your thoughts on the above list — who you might consider, and why.
About the Author
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.