There were at least three more articles ready to go concerning the collapse of the Mets, but at this point who cares? It’s over. The subject has been saturated. Time to move on, and start looking ahead to 2008.
Let’s begin with Paul LoDuca.
When the Mets refused to discuss an extension with LoDuca in the spring, it was a red flag that the 2007 season might be his last as a Met. And while his spirited play was a breath of fresh air on an occasionally lifeless squad, his defense took another step backward and his offensive production dropped considerably compared to 2006.
The RBI were up, but that was more a function of his being in the bottom half of the batting order, rather than in the #2 spot that he called home for most of 2006. Still, it was nice to see that production at the bottom of the order. And though nearly doubling his homerun output, it came at the expense of 21 less doubles. Bottom line was, he didn’t get the bat on the ball nearly as often in 2007 as he did in 2006 — and for a guy that doesn’t walk, that is a major problem when trying to get on base and score runs (i.e., start rallies).
Looking at LoDuca in a vacuum, it’s easy to say “let him test the free-agent waters, we’ll get someone else in here.” However, the pickings are slim; in fact, LoDuca may very well be the best value available on the market.
Herewith the list of potential free-agent catchers:
- Jorge Posada
- Ivan Rodriguez
- Brad Ausmus
- Jason Kendall
- Mike Piazza
- Damian Miller
- Michael Barrett
- Kelly Stinnett
- Yorvit Torrealba
- Josh Paul
- Doug Mirabelli
- Mike Lieberthal
- Robert Fick
- Rod Barajas
- Paul Bako
- Jason Larue
- Todd Greene
- Chad Moeller
That’s it folks. And the Tigers may or may not be picking up Pudge Rodriguez’s option — something the Mets will be watching closely, we presume. I don’t see Posada crossing town, and I don’t see Piazza returning. Barrett was a guy I once thought might be OK, but he can’t hit and he can’t catch and Lou Piniella says he can’t call a game either (he does have a good left hook, though). Ausmus will either re-sign with Houston or go back to San Diego (it’s simply what he does, for whatever reason). Lieberthal’s days as a regular are over. There’s been some talk about Torrealba, but he looks to me like a Paul LoDuca who strikes out twice as often. Who’s left, realistically? Rod Barajas? Jason Larue? I’m thinking … no.
Before you get on the “Ramon Castro should start” kick, here’s some news: Castro is a free-agent as well. And coming off back problems. Further, though you may not care, both Mike DiFelice and Sandy Alomar, Jr., are free birds as well. So in all likelihood, the Mets’ 40-man roster in November will be devoid of catchers. (Damn the Nats for rule-5-drafting Jesus Flores!)
Castro’s not a lock to return, despite his homerun heroics in limited duty. The Mets are concerned with his back, and may not be willing to pay the money he could get from another team — such as, an AL team that could use him as a backup catcher and DH. There is no one outside of 17-year-old Francisco Pena in the minors. There’s a very real possibility that the Mets will have to find a starting and backup catcher from outside the organization.
But unless a trade (or two) can be made, it may make the most sense to bring back LoDuca. The fans love his spirit, the team can use his leadership, and his numbers aren’t that bad compared to what’s available on the market. He’s proven that he can handle the New York media, and the various pressures that go with playing in the big city. The pitchers like pitching to him, and he handles the staff well. He’s a team player, and though he whines once in a while, he’s hardly a distraction. One must wonder who will take the pressure off David Wright — as far as speaking to the media — once LoDuca and Glavine are gone. That duty can’t be measured, nor ignored. It’s not like one of the Carloses will suddenly become the Mets’ spokesperson.
Outside of free agency, I’m not sure there are any good fits worth trading for. Ramon Hernandez? Maybe. Contrary to reports, I don’t believe Victor Martinez can be pried away from the Indians — and if he is, the price is sure to be hefty. There’s been talk about Ronny Paulino of the Pirates, as well as Miguel Olivo of the Marlins, but I’m not sure either of them is an improvement over LoDuca. Gerald Laird is available now that Texas has Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but do you really think Laird is the answer? In New York? Maybe on the 1981 Mets, but not the 2008 version. Johnny Estrada is a possibility, but again, isn’t he essentially LoDuca? Why give up personnel for a guy when you can sign someone similar and give up nothing?
If there were a backstop out there who we could definitely say is a good fit, and could improve on LoDuca’s production, then fine — let Paulie go. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Barring a blockbuster deal, or an infatuation with Pudge Rodriguez, the odds of Paul LoDuca returning may be better than we originally thought.