Rethinking LoDuca

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.

[TABLE=26]

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.

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. isuzudude October 3, 2007 at 5:06 pm
    I agree Joe and I thought about making a post to the effect last month, but everytime I was going to Paul was hitting into a DP or throwing a ball in centefield and making the timing bad.

    If Lo Duca can be had for a 2-yr deal at around $4-5 mil a year, then do it. There’s simply no one else available. You bring up a good point in his rapport with the pitchers. Maine and Perez both had breakout seasons with Paulie calling the pitches. His offensive and defensive skills may be diminishing, but his pitch calling skills and desire to win aren’t. And likely batting 7th or 8th in next year’s lineup, he’s good enough to retain.

    Castro probably goes to the highest bidder, likely not the Mets, and that means we pick from the free agent crop this offseason. Torrealba or Jose Molina look like the best candidates to me.

  2. Micalpalyn October 3, 2007 at 5:43 pm
    my 2cents:

    i am not a big LoDuca fan. but i agree the pickins are not deep. However there is ONe loduca clone that spurred his team …or at least helped his team into an unlikely title….Jason kendall. Also the guy
    he replaced mike Barrett potentially equates to a fireball and decent platoon oprtion/2nd catcher.

    Jose Molina: Might be a good cursebreaker

  3. Micalpalyn October 3, 2007 at 5:43 pm
    my 2cents:

    i am not a big LoDuca fan. but i agree the pickins are not deep. However there is ONe loduca clone that spurred his team …or at least helped his team into an unlikely title….Jason kendall. Also the guy he replaced mike Barrett potentially equates to a fireball and decent platoon oprtion/2nd catcher.

    Jose Molina: Might be a good cursebreaker

  4. joe October 3, 2007 at 10:05 pm
    isuzudude — good point re: LoDuca batting eighth. Because really, is there an available catcher who’d bat higher in the Mets’ lineup next year? And if we can get Paulie at a reasonable price, why fix what ain’t broke?

    Kendall, though, is also a possibility. He’s played in mostly small markets, though, which may be an issue. Is it worth taking the chance to get maybe a few more singles, the same temperament, and have to re-learn a new pitching staff and way of doing things?

    My feeling is that if the Tigers don’t pick up the option on Pudge, Omar will be all over him. And he won’t come cheap. And I doubt he’s worth the asking price. Three years ago (and pre steroid testing), maybe. Now? Not so sure. His power’s gone, his defensive skills are nowhere near where they used to be, he NEVER takes a walk, and he’s more an AL guy than an NL guy (as far as knowledge of hitters, etc.). If Pudge was certain to take this team by the horns and be the unquestionable leader, I’d be interested. But not sure he’d assume that role. Again, another career small-market player.

  5. sincekindergarten October 4, 2007 at 4:26 am
    Supposedly, Joe, the Tigers are picking up Pudge’s option. Given the talent pool out there, I would hope the Wilpons would put aside their moral objections to Paulie’s teenaged (but legal) pursuits, and sign him. I would also hope that they resign Castro.

    Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

  6. isuzudude October 4, 2007 at 6:10 am
    Unrelated topic:

    YAY! The Phillies lost! Love seeing all those big bats do nothing but strikeout.

    Look at how pitching dominated day 1 of the postseason. No one scored more than 4 runs. Reinforcing the fact that pitching wins in the playoffs. Omar – YOU PAYING ATTENTION?

    How about Reyes for Johan?

  7. joe October 4, 2007 at 9:26 am
    The Tigers are lukewarm on the topic of picking up Pudge’s deal, and Scott Boras is doing a full-court PR press guilt move on them. We’ll see how it works out.

    I’d like to see Paulie and Castro come back, if for no other reason than that the more people the Mets keep, the more they should be motivated to erase this past season’s debacle. Who really knows if millionaire ballplayers still have pride, though?

    Reyes for Johan? How about … no.

  8. Micalpalyn October 4, 2007 at 11:29 am
    LoDuca: when Loduca went to #8 it watered down what he was to this team in 2006 in which he filled the void of a #2 hitter who took walks and gave Reyes oppurtunities. as such I felt that the CATCHER and game caller became more important.

    NOW: gm162. The fact CASTRO was catching looms large for me. IF Loduca was clearly the #1 catcher and motivational leader the team needed HE would be catching Glavine.

    LoDuca, Catching and Willie: The Yanks use two catchers, but often in that mix Posada DHs. There seemed to be alot of catcher-misfires this year and I for one support the ATL personal catcher system, in which Tom for example has HIS battery mate whom he always knows is his receiver. My opinion is that If Castro comes back, I’d like Jason Kendall or Mike Barrett as a teamate. In the past we had Charlie O’Brien, Stinnett, et al who were offensive liabilities. This era’s catchers are relatively productive with the bat.

    loDuca on Defense: Mike diFelice came in when both Castro and LoDuca were out and did a credible job. I dont know his defensive (or offensive stats) but I am interested in whether his defense/game calling affected the deceision matrix Omar and Willie might have on the agenda.

  9. joe October 4, 2007 at 12:25 pm
    I thought Castro caught #162 because Paulie could barely walk?

    I’ve never been a proponent of the “personal catcher” thing — except for knuckleballers — partially because of the threat of animosity, partially because what if the caddy catcher turns out to be an offensive horror show, and then the pitcher is uncomfortable when you have to make a change (such as in the postseason). But, they made it work well with Castro and Pedro for a couple years … and I think if anyone is going to have a caddy, it would be Pedro.

    Kendall I like, Barrett I used to but no longer. I didn’t realize until watching him this year how poor a defensive catcher he is — and now that he doesn’t hit much either, he’s not very helpful. And likely wouldn’t be a bargain in this thin market.

    I was surprised by DiFelice’s offense, and always liked him defensively. Personally, I’d be happy to see him back as a #2 — assuming his bat continues to improve. And as crazy as it might sound, I was pretty darn impressed with Sandy Alomar, Jr.’s play as a 42-year-old. He can still catch with the best of them, can still gun them down. I hate that he has to swing within the first two pitches, but what can you do? It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have him come back again as a AAA / #3 — if he doesn’t hang ’em up.

  10. isuzudude October 4, 2007 at 6:37 pm
    Mic, again I’m left scratching my head due to one of your posts.

    The most memorable action of DiFelice I have of him this past season was dropping a pop up behind home plate that extended an inning for the opposition and led to a Mets defeat. I don’t remember any gold glove caliber plays or any clutch offensive performances from him, mostly because he hardly received any playing time. But I think there’s a reason as to why he’s bounced around on 8 teams over his 12 year career, and it’s because he’s just not very good.

    The reason Lo Duca didn’t play gm. 162 was because of a bruised knee cap that probably would have landed him on the DL if the season was in July. Castro’s start wasn’t a testiment of his ability to help the Mets win or Willie’s confidence in him. It was out of necessity because of Paul’s injury.

    Lo Duca, however, was a horrible option batting 2nd this season. In 2006 he was the man, moving Reyes over to 2nd or 3rd, taking pitches w/o striking out, making productive outs while keeping his average high. This season Lo Duca hit all of .234 in the 2-hole, a big reason why guys like Wright, Green, and Beltran spent time hitting behind Reyes, even though their skills are much better suited for further down the lineup. Then, with the acquisition of Castillo, Lo Duca in the 2-slot became obsolete b/c Luis is the prototypical #2 batter, even more so than Paulie himself in 2006. I would dare to say that even if the Mets bring back Lo Duca and let Castillo go, Paul still won’t be the 2008 #2 hitter. Those days are over. And I think his 4 HR, 21 RBI outburst in September was a testiment to Lo Duca taking the approach of a #7 hitter and swinging more for the fences instead of strictly for the right side to move runners along.

  11. joe October 4, 2007 at 6:55 pm
    The more I “re-think” the LoDuca thing, the more I’m not sure the best course of action.

    Regardless of who is catching in 2008, he most likely will be hitting 7th or 8th. There aren’t any tremendous defensive catchers available, so maybe it’s best to go all-out for offense. But even then, what catcher has such a great bat? Pudge? Find out what Javy Lopez is doing? Barrett? I’m not sure any of those guys will be more productive than LoDuca next year. Maybe a bit more slugging, but enough that it’s worth changing things? Tough, very tough.

  12. […] went over this the other day; Paul LoDuca looks to be the best free-agent option — and in my mind, that includes Pudge Rodriguez. Next best after Pudge is probably Jason […]
  13. […] went over the LoDuca Issue last week, and removing Ivan Rodriguez from the equation just made re-signing LoDuca that much more a […]