Pudge Off the Table

Detroit Tigers catcher Ivan Well that didn’t take long … with one brief, swift announcement by the Detroit Tigers, Paul LoDuca became the second-best catcher on the free-agent market.

The Tigers announced that they will be picking up Skinny … er, Pudge Rodriguez’s $14M option for 2008, rather than allow him to walk away as a free agent.

We went over the LoDuca Issue last week, and removing Ivan Rodriguez from the equation just made re-signing LoDuca that much more a priority.

While I’m not sure Pudge would have been the right fit, there were whispers that the higher-ups in the Mets’ organization would get into the bidding for him, had his option not been picked up. Other than Rodriguez, the only other top-flight, championship-caliber catcher available through free agency is Jorge Posada — who is coming off a career year and will command beaucoup bucks. At age 36, it’s doubtful Posada will be worth the money; his defensive skills (like Rodriguez) are deteriorating and his chances of duplicating a .330+ batting average — in a brand-new league — are slim to none. (Veteran hitters often experience a down year when switching leagues, partly because all the pitchers are new to them.)

With I-Rod off the table, Posada an unlikely option, and Brad Ausmus deciding between Houston and San Diego, that leaves LoDuca, Jason Kendall, and Yorvit Torrealba as the best free agent starting catchers to choose from.

We know about LoDuca, he knows about the Mets. He knows the pitching staff, and the pitchers respect him. We like his fiery play. He understands Rick Peterson’s philosophies and works with them. We like hearing someone other than David Wright talk to the press. He loves playing in New York City. We love hearing “Volare” and the Bee Gees when he comes to bat. Unless the Mets can find someone significantly better both defensively and offensively, it doesn’t make much sense to cast him away.

Jason Kendall might hit more singles. He’ll definitely hit less homeruns and doubles. He will have the same fiery play. His defense will be similar, or slightly worse. He’ll run the bases slightly better. We won’t hear “Volare” when he comes to bat.

Yorvit Torrealba was a career backup before getting almost 400 at-bats in 2007, and he had a breakout season: 8 homers, 47 RBI, .255 batting average. Yes, for him, that’s a “breakout” year. He’d probably be a better defensive option, but he’s no Yadier Molina. He could be the only person in a New York MLB uniform whose name starts with “Torre”. He’ll definitely be the only one named “Yorvit”.

From an offensive standpoint, LoDuca, Kendall, and Torrealba are essentially the same — singles hitters who don’t strike out very often, but don’t walk very often, either. Kendall has the least amount of pop, Torrealba hits safely less often. Torrealba is the better of the three defensively, but not Gold Glove caliber. As far as age goes, Torrealba will be 30, while the other two are in their mid-30s. Essentially, replacing LoDuca with either of these two would be changing for the sake of change.

Forget Mike Piazza — he’s a DH now and not returning as long as Omar is in charge. Michael Barrett is terrible defensively, fading offensively, and comes with baggage. Ramon Castro would be nice to come back as a backup, but would be exposed — offensively and defensively — if given an everyday job. Perhaps if you could combine Castro with a lefthanded-hitting backstop in a platoon, you’d have something. But again, the market is thin. Robert Fick?

If the Mets do not re-sign LoDuca and/or Castro, they MUST make a trade — that is, if they’re intent on either maintaining or improving production behind the plate. Unfortunately, there aren’t many catchers available who are much better than the 2007 Mets’ duo. Johnny Estrada? Gerald Laird? Ramon Hernandez?

Maybe the Mets will put together a package for someone big — like Victor Martinez. If so, most if not all of their top trading chips likely are gone (Pelfrey, Humber, Milledge, Gomez). Which in turn means all other issues (second base, pitching, corner OF) would HAVE to be addressed via free agency.

In other words, if the Mets don’t re-sign their dynamic duo of LoDuca and Castro, obtaining a backstop could turn out to be the most interesting and crucial development of the Mets’ offseason.

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. Micalpalyn October 9, 2007 at 4:43 pm
    My vote slides to Kendall and Castro.

    Note to Joe: Kendall based on his Oakland days may already know Peterson’s idiocyncracies.

  2. joe October 9, 2007 at 9:38 pm
    Valid point. But he has never caught anyone on the Mets’ staff (maybe Ollie?). Not a huge deal, just pointing out that there will be a learning curve.

    And again, what do we gain with Kendall, over the known quantity that is LoDuca? Less power, more running speed, similar defense.

    Survey says?

    Volare ! Whoa oh … cantare … whoa oh oh oh …

  3. Micalpalyn October 9, 2007 at 10:06 pm
    less NY post.

    Sometimes change is good…sometimes.

  4. joe October 9, 2007 at 10:41 pm
    true enough

    I have this idealistic (and probably unrealistic) belief that bringing LoDuca back would be good because he’ll be extra-motivated after being on a team that underachieved and failed so miserably this past September. The crazy notion that returning Mets will attack 2008 with an edge, a fire in their bellies to right what they did wrong in ’07.

    Forever a romantic, I know.

  5. sincekindergarten October 10, 2007 at 4:19 am
    Joe, I think that we’ll see that attitude in the whole organization this year. No one, including the ’62 Mets, likes being laughed at. The ’07 Mets will be back with a vengence (sp?). It wouldn’t surprise me to see the ’08 version try to erase the memories of the previous year by attempting to score more runs than any other team in MLB next year.
  6. joe October 10, 2007 at 8:55 am
    I hope you’re right.

    And I think scoring runs like lunatics is the way to go. Despite my old school ways, it’s clear that offense is much more important now, over the course of a 162-game season, than pitching. Short series / postseason is another animal entirely — but as long as the fate of baseball games is going to be handed to middle relievers every day, offensive firepower is a top priority.

  7. isuzudude October 10, 2007 at 5:11 pm
    “…but as long as the fate of baseball games is going to be handed to middle relievers every day, offensive firepower is a top priority.”

    I still disagree with that comment, Joe. The two teams that finished with the best records in their respective leagues were the Diamondbacks and Indians. Arizona’s offense was last in batting average in the NL this year, Cleveland was middle of the pack in the AL. But what they had that set them apart was unbelievably strong middle relievers. Not one guy on the D’backs who appeared in over 50 games had an ERA over 3.30. And looking at the Tribe, with the exception of their closer, the rest of the bullpen was under 3.00. It is ALL ABOUT PITCHING. Regular season, postseason, preseason, ’tis whatever season you want. Pitching wins, and any major league offense can feast off pitching that isn’t up to snuff – the exact reason why the Mets won only 88 games this year. Not because the offense wasn’t good enough. It was because the relief pitching was so abysmal. So don’t go the “Yankee route” and obtain every available all-star position player and then make pitching an after thought. It may be good enough to win 90 games, but no where near good enough to win a world championship, let alone a single playoff series.

  8. joe October 10, 2007 at 7:24 pm
    The D’backs did not have unique middle relief — they had unique starters who went deep into games and a manager who spread the relief load among several arms (rather than relying on the same four guys all year long). If you look back to last week’s post regarding the Bullpen (part two), you’ll see the D’backs only needed to cover 483 innings of relief — least in the NL — and spread that minuscule load pretty well.

    I don’t know about Cleveland’s pen because I didn’t do an analysis.

    For every D’Backs and Indians you have a Phillies and Yankees.

    It used to be all about pitching, but it’s getting to be more and more about pounding out the runs. As long as a team is going to hold starters to the 100-pitch count bullsh*t, games will continue to be won and lost from innings six through eight — where the very worst pitchers handle the game.

    Now if you can tell me the Mets can sign FIVE Scott Linebrinks and Aaron Heilmans, I’m with you on the pitching thing. If you can tell me they’ll somehow find 3-4 starters who regularly pitch into and past the 7th inning (like the D’Backs, the Tigers of ’06, the ChiSox of ’05), then again, I’m with you.

    However, as long as the Mets adhere to the plan of running Heilman and Feliciano out there 80 times a year, and pulling starters on the 100th pitch, then they need to find more bats.

  9. isuzudude October 10, 2007 at 8:12 pm
    Joe, you totally missed the point. The D’backs had the WORST offense in the NL, but still had the BEST record. And regardless of innings pitched, their bullpen was the main reason why they won so many games. Even if your calculations have their starters working the longest into games of any team in the league, that doesn’t necesarily make them productive innings. Only Brandon Webb had an ERA under 4 of Arizona’s starters that amassed more than 10 starts. Compare that to the Mets 3 (Maine, Perez, El Duque). So you can say that their staff went an inning deeper per game over the course of the season compared to the Mets starters, but were also giving up an extra run per game. It was then the bullpen that came in and routinely shut the door from innings 7 thru 9, while the Mets were giving up 2 or 3 runs from innings 6 thru 9.

    I get the feeling you believe many a-Mets game is decided late in the game, when the bullpens are front and center. I don’t disagree, using this past season as an example. But if that’s the case, and you want more offense to offset the bad bullpen, then you better obtain a lot of guys who hit .400 in the 8th and 9th inning. Otherwise, your bullpen’s going to keep blowing games, and now you just have a more expensive lineup who can’t hit when the game’s on the line.

    If its “all about the runs,” then tell me why the Red Sox held the Angels to 4 runs in 3 games. Why the feared offense of the Yankees scored just 2 earned runs in 13 innings against the Indians bullpen. Why those fightin’ Phils lost 2-1 in Colorado to get eliminated. ITS BECAUSE OF GOOD PITCHING. GOOD PITCHING ALWAYS BEATS GOOD HITTING. Being around the game I thought you would have picked that up by now…

    Now, I’m not going to clash heads with you and say the Mets have to go crazy and sign the 3 best relievers on the market this offseason, breaking the bank and sacrificing everything else. But I will tell you the philosophy of scrapping plans of building a solid relief corps and instead concentrating on offense alone is wrong. You mention the Yankees and Phillies and look where it got them…eliminated. And look at year’s passed. Cardinals: built on pitching and Pujols. White Sox: pitching. Red Sox: high powered offense but also Pedro, Schilling, and a good bullpen. And even the Yankees of the late 90s. No Arod. No Giambi. No Soriano. It was Clemens, Pettitte, Rivera, and an awesome bullpen.

    Getting to the point where your team has envious starting and relief pitching is a long and laborious road…one every team in baseball is on. But I’m saying it’s better to go down that road with its proven track record than go down the “get all the big bats available and win 12-11” road.

  10. joe October 10, 2007 at 9:47 pm
    Isuzudude, I didn’t miss the point, but merely glazed over it. 🙂

    Good pitching beats good hitting, yes. And in a short series, that fact can be magnified.

    However, you have missed my point — if the Mets are going to continue with their illogical plan of relying on cemented roles for their bullpen — i.e., Heilman pitches the eighth, Feliciano pitches the seventh, etc. — and they continue with the other nonsensical edict that all starting pitchers regardless of race, color, ability, or biological form throw only 100 pitches — then we will see a repeat of the 2007 collapse in September ’08.

    As we’ve been going over the last two weeks, there are NO middle relief arms on the market that the Mets will realistically pursue and attain. And the only workhorse starters on the market — Silva, Livan, a few others — are no sure bet to come the NY. So my conclusion is that they need to get lots and lots of the mediocre arms available for innings 6-8, and offset that mediocrity with some more offensive firepower.

    Again, IF, IF IF IF IF the Mets can get remarkably lucky — like they did in ’06 via the incredible performances of ChadBrad, Pedro Lite, Darren Oliver, Duaner etc. — then you are absolutely correct that focusing on pitching is the best plan.

    Unfortunately, I see a lot more available options to pump up the offense than I do the pitching — and suggesting that it may make more sense to work with what the market offers.

    What worked two years ago is not necessarily going to work now, because steroid testing put an end to hordes of effective everyday relief. Everyone in MLB is scrambling to find bullpen arms, but the juiceless market offers scant value and no depth.