Mets Fan Window Shopping: Catcher

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:

Mike Napoli
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.

A.J. Pierzynski
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.

Miguel Olivo
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.

Brian Schneider
Been there, done that.

Rod Barajas
See Schneider, above.

Kelly Shoppach
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.

Bobby Wilson
A solid defender with no offensive skills. AAA fodder or a decent backup to a plus-offensive catcher.

Jesus Flores
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?

Geovany Soto
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.

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. AV December 3, 2012 at 9:30 am
    Soto just re-signed with Texas. I’d go with Flores. He’s a right-handed bat to platoon with Josh Thole and would probably be the cheapest of the group. As everyday players both might be exposed but they might work as a solid platoon, also alleviating some of Flores’ injury issues if his playing time is limited.
    • Joe Janish December 3, 2012 at 10:03 am
      Figures … I wrote this post about an hour before the Soto news came out.

      If nothing else, Flores is the youngest catcher left. Flores and Thole don’t excite me, though. How about a 2-year deal for A.J.?

  2. Izzy December 3, 2012 at 9:58 am
    Flores had his chance last year in Dc and failed offensively and defensively. So the A’s waived Suzuki and of course all three or four Met GMs were asleep so DC got him, He quickly beat out Flores and was pretty good offensively and defensively, but if all we want is the cheapest then why not keep Nickeas and Thole.
  3. Marc December 3, 2012 at 9:23 pm
    AJ doesn’t lack arm strength. He lacks pitchers who can hold runners on and defensively he is far better than adequate .
    • Joe Janish December 3, 2012 at 11:07 pm
      Marc, I agree that the ChiSox pitchers were not great at keeping runners close. However, AJ always has had at best average arm strength for a MLB catcher, and as he’s aged his feet have slowed down, which in turn slows down his release and the velocity of his throws. Additionally, because of the combination of his overall slowing down and the inability of his pitchers to keep runners close, AJ has fallen into a habit of rushing his mechanics, which take even more velocity away and significantly affect accuracy.

      Would he do a better job of throwing out runners with a pitching staff that keeps runners close? Of course.

      Also, I disagree that he’s “far better than adequate” defensively. When he was younger, he was better than adequate, but again, man can’t defy the effects of age without PEDs, and AJ has lost a bit overall.

      But, much of catching defense cannot be measured, so it’s subjective, and we can agree to disagree.

      What I’m sure we agree upon is that AJ would be a HUGE upgrade over Thole – offensively and defensively. I’d sign AJ to be the Mets catcher for the next two years in a heartbeat.

  4. Herb December 3, 2012 at 10:58 pm
    Scratch Napoli (too expensive anyway) and Soto (who might have been a possibility) as signed. Pierzynski would be a great addition, but I fear that he too is too dear. Olivo is a decent defensive catcher with almost no bat, although he’s not a Nickeas. I hope we don’t go in that direction. The only FA possibility you mention is Jesus Flores, who would be cheap and little risk, since we could start him out in Las Vegas and see if he recaptures any of his previous abilities.
    IMO, the Mets will have to find their starting C in the trade market. My choice, frankly, would be to approach Brian Sabean and inquire on Hector Sanchez., a 23 year old switch hitter, who put up pretty good numbers as Buster Posey’s backup this year, but will never be a starter with the Giants. That’s just my idea. The more likely scenario is that Sandy tries to strike a deal for either Saltalamacchia or Arencibia. Either would be more than acceptable. Salty is particularly appealing as a switch hitter, but either could develop into a very solid major league catcher.