Tag: ivan rodriguez

Free Agent Evaluation: Catchers

Despite already having a competent backup in Omir Santos, the Mets have signed two backup catchers — Chris Coste and Henry Blanco — and are in the market for a starting backstop. We know Omar Minaya has his eye on Bengie Molina, but he’s not the only one out there. Let’s go through the top targets.


7 Myths About Pudge Rodriguez Dispelled

Every excuse in the book is being thrown around as to why the Mets simply cannot sign Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. The Hall of Fame-caliber catcher’s recent performance in the WBC has the natives restless, creating so much noise that Mets’ Assistant GM Tony Bernazard (The Office reference — “no Tony, assistant TO the GM!”) felt the need to respond through Puerto Rico newspaper El Nuevo Dia. (Google translation here.)

Let’s go through some of the myths that are keeping Pudge out of Flushing.

1. He doesn’t fit in the Mets’ payroll — not with two catchers already under contract.

Really? Even after the Mets saved themselves about $1.6M by cutting Duaner Sanchez? From all public reports, Ivan Rodriguez is dying to play for the Mets, and likely would take much less than $1M. In fact, he might just take $500K for the opportunity to play for a pennant chaser in New York. Last year, manager Jerry Manuel liked the idea of having three catchers, and chances are good that both Robinson Cancel and Rene Rivera will spend time on the 25-man roster in ’09. Would you rather pay around $400-750K for a combination of Rivera and Cancel or about the same amount for Rodriguez?

2. Ivan Rodriguez hinders the development of young pitchers / doesn’t work well with them.

This is one of the most illogical knocks against him, but don’t take it from me — look at past history. For example, look at the two teams that Pudge LED into the World Series — the 2006 Tigers and the 2003 Marlins. The Tigers rode the arms of 23-year-old stallions Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander; 24-year-old Zach Miner; and 21-year-old Joel Zumaya, among others. In fact, of the 19 hurlers who threw a pitch for the Tigers in ’06, only 3 were over the age of 29.

Compare that to the 2003 Marlins, whose aces that year were 21-year-old Dontrelle Willis and 23-year-old Josh Beckett, who led a rotation that also featured 25-year-old Brad Penny and 27-year-old Carl Pavano. Of the 22 pitchers from that squad, only four were over the age of 29.

Again, both the Tigers and the Marlins went to the World Series, with Ivan Rodriguez catching their young phenoms. I’m not sure where this myth emanated from, but it has no legs.

3. Ivan Rodriguez calls too many fastballs … and can’t call a game in general.

This one really gets my blood boiling, since I’ve been a catcher myself for the past 30 years. Let me just say this: it’s next to impossible to catch every day in MLB for nearly 20 years and be “bad” at calling a game. Even if you’re as dumb as a stump, after all that experience you have to pick up SOMETHING.

As far as the “too many fastballs” BS, I want to know exactly what pitchers expressed that complaint. In my experience of catching several hundred pitchers, there have been quite a few who “fell in love” with their breaking balls, to the point where they’d throw them on 3-1 counts despite it not being their best pitch. Anyone who complains about throwing “too many” fastballs probably needs to work on his command, and probably likes to mess around too much with trying to fool hitters instead of doing his job of throwing strikes to specific spots.

4. Ivan Rodriguez can’t hit any more.

This is a favorite of Yankees fans, who base their opinion on his 96 at-bats in pinstripes last year. In the first 82 games of 2008, in a Tigers uniform, Pudge hit .295 with a .338 OBP and .417 SLG. Those aren’t anywhere near the numbers he put up in his younger days, but no one is expecting him to return to MVP status — all the Mets need is someone to platoon with Brian Schneider. Those offensive numbers will be fine in the #7 or #8 spot in the order.

5. Ivan Rodriguez may hit for average, but so what? His OBP stinks.

Hmm …. the sabermetricians have me there, don’t they? Well it’s true that Pudge’s combined OBP last year wasn’t too hot — only .319. But his career OBP is .340, which isn’t too shabby. And his OBP as a Tiger in 2008 was, as previously mentioned, .338 — which by the way is one point less than Brian Schneider’s .339.

Again, we’re talking about a seventh or eighth-place hitter on a National League team, who will be making less than a million dollars — does he need to be an on-base machine? Oh, and as long as we’re so enthralled with OBP, Robinson Cancel’s was .288 last year, and Ramon Castro’s was .312.

6. He’s not the same player since he stopped taking PEDs.

Got me again. But then, neither is Paul LoDuca, Guillermo Mota, Ron Villone, Mike Piazza, Lino Urdaneta, Matt Franco, Todd Pratt, Todd Hundley, Lenny Dykstra, Mark Carreon, Mo Vaughn, Scott Schoeneweis, Mike Stanton, Matt Lawton, Yusaku Iriki, or Felix Heredia. But he’s still a fairly productive and durable player off “the juice”.

7. Bringing in Pudge might upset Brian Schneider, Ramon Castro, and/or disrupt the chemistry of the clubhouse.

So what? Last I checked, that “chemistry” was in serious doubt, and leaderless. The rumblings we keep hearing is that the Mets’ clubhouse is comprised of segmented factions and clicks, with language as a dividing line. And why wouldn’t you want to disrupt a team that blew September leads and wilted under pressure two years in a row? Maybe Pudge can be a go-to guy for the media — a role that is sorely lacking in that clubhouse.

As for Schneider and Castro, neither of them have proven to me that they deserve to be comfortable. I see no World Series rings nor MVP trophies from either that suggest they’ve earned the right not to compete for their jobs. And Castro’s joking manner and “ability to keep the team loose” may be just the thing Jeff Wilpon was talking about when he mentioned “addition by subtraction” last fall. Until the Mets laugh their way into the playoffs, I’m not buying into Castro’s personality being a positive factor … though, in his defense, it’s easier to be funny when you win.

Bottom Line

Pudge Rodriguez wants to come to New York, and NOT for the money … how often do you find that combination in a player? Heck, I guarantee there are at least 3-4 current Mets who would gladly play in Kansas City, or a similarly small media market, if they could take their hefty salary with them. Further, no one is suggesting that Pudge would be the Mets’ everyday catcher. Rather, he’d be an ideal platoon partner with Brian Schneider, and/or a third catcher and RH bat to have on the bench. And he’ll probably come at a price less than what the Mets are paying Cory Sullivan. Isn’t it worth giving someone with his resume and postseason experience a shot — particularly when your team can use a durable, righthanded hitting catcher?


Can the Mets Make a Deal?

It’s less than a month before spring training, and the Mets still need a frontline, #2 / #3 type starter; middle relief help; starting rotation depth; and a legitimate left fielder (who ideally bats with power from the right side). They also have a question at second base and might have interest in upgrading the catching position — though those issues are not nearly as dire as the others.

If you hear it from Omar Minaya, however, the only question is the starting pitching. Whether he’s lying through his teeth or not is up for debate, but his public opinion is that the middle relief will be handled by one of the rule 5 picks and Sean Green; the starting pitching depth is covered by Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell; and he’s very comfortable with Fernando Tatis and Dan Murphy in left field.

The reality is that, if he truly believes what he says, then the Mets are likely to finish in third … or fourth place. The Phillies, Braves, and Marlins all will be competitive in ’09, and the Mets as currently assembled do not look head and shoulders above any of them. They could tip the scales their way with the acquisition of a big bat and a solid starter, and there’s still time to do so.

However, it appears that neither of those acquisitions will come through free agency. It’s interesting to see the media and fans clamoring for the return of Oliver Perez — only months ago, many of these same people couldn’t see the inconsistent Ollie flee fast enough. That said, the idea that Perez is the “frontline” starter the Mets need is somewhat amusing. But hey, he’s the best left of a sorry lot, and if the Mets can re-sign him, then that one hole is filled.

But if they don’t, what is their recourse? The latest rumor suggests that Ben Sheets is the answer. Sheets does have frontline skills, but would the Mets want to add another health risk to a rotation filled with question marks? The next-best option after Sheets is Jon Garland, who is a nice innings-eater but at best a #4.

Conversely, the big bat the Mets need has been staring them in the face all winter: Manny Ramirez. For whatever reason, though, they continue to resist making an offer to the best righthanded hitter in the universe. After Manny, no options exist; the only other righthanded-hitting outfielders of consequence are Andruw Jones, Jay Payton, Jonny Gomes, and Kevin Millar (though, Moises Alou has not yet officially retired). Like Manny, the Mets have shown no interest in any of these players.

Maybe the Mets sign one of the aforementioned starters. But if they don’t go after Manny — and that appears to be a foregone conclusion — where will they find that righthanded bat for left field? Certainly not from the farm system — the only position player close to MLB ready is Nick Evans, who was overmatched in his short stint last year. A trade would have to be made.

But what do the Mets have available for a trade? Their organization is so low on valuable chips, it took four minor leaguers, three MLBers, and help from the Indians to obtain J.J. Putz. In order to make a trade for an impact bat, the Mets would likely need to orchestrate a similarly complex deal, or create another hole to fill.

Naturally, the Mets won’t be trading Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Mike Pelfrey, nor Johan Santana. You can probably add Carlos Delgado to that mix, and it’s hard to believe they’d swap away John Maine — he’s needed for the rotation and his injury puts his stock at an all-time low. No one wants Luis Castillo, so forget about that idea. Ryan Church might have some value, but because of his headaches, his greatest value may be to the Mets. Pedro Feliciano also might draw interest, but then the Mets are without a steady lefty in the bullpen. At times this winter, there’s been talk of moving Brian Schneider, perhaps to the Red Sox but 1) will he be enough to bring back an offensive force, and 2) if so, where do they find a new starting catcher? Would free agent Ivan Rodriguez be an option? The Mets would need to move fairly quickly to swap Schneider and still have time to sign Pudge.

Looking around MLB, there isn’t an abundance of available outfielders that fit the Mets’ needs. Righthanded hitters with some punch have become a rarity — which is why the Phillies were forced to add LH-hitting Raul Ibanez to their already lefty-heavy lineup. A quick look around turns up the names Eric Byrnes, Austin Kearns, Jose Guillen, Marcus Thames, Xavier Nady, and Gary Matthews, Jr., as players who might be available. Not exactly an awe-inspiring group, and yet most of them are probably unattainable in return for what the Mets have for trading chips. It might make sense to spin a youngster like Evans for a proven hitter stuck in AAA — someone like Matt Murton — or to take a chance on a guy who once showed promise, such as Gomes. But that doesn’t really upgrade the current situation of uncertainty in the outfield — rather, it muddles it further. There are only so many at-bats available in spring training to offer the likes of Tatis, Murphy, Evans, Jeremy Reed, Angel Pagan, Marlon Anderson, and whomever else is invited to ST.

Bottom line — unless their thinking changes in regard to the free agent pool, the Mets are likely to enter spring training with similar personnel as they have today. But of course, anything can happen.


Does Brian Schneider Stink?

Earlier this offseason — before Omar Minaya went into hibernation — there were rumblings that the Mets might be looking to upgrade their catching situation. Various rumors swirled involving Jason Varitek, Ivan Rodriguez, and Bengie Molina, among others. According to “sources with knowledge of the Mets’ thinking”, the team was hoping to get more offensive production from their backstops. The lefty-righty tandem of Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro combined for 16 HR, 62 RBI, 45 runs scored, and a .253 average. Not bad, but not great either. It’s about the same output as Varitek’s 2008.

Most recently, statistics published on Adam Rubin’s “Surfing the Mets” blog suggest that Schneider could be more the scapegoat of the Mets’ failure — but because of his defense, rather than his offense. The numbers reported in Rubin’s column, by way of “RayRubin Sports Analytics“, are as follows:

SANCHEZ caught by CASTRO 65 ABs, allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=292
SCHNEIDER 108 ABs, allows 6 HRs and OPP SLUG%=454

HEILMAN caught by CASTRO 50 ABs , allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=340
SCHNEIDER 195 ABs, allows 9 HRs and OPP SLUG%=456

FELICIANO caught by CASTRO 36 ABs, allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=306
SCHNEIDER 134 ABs, allows 6 HRs and OPP SLUG%=455

WAGNER caught by CASTRO 49 ABs, allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=204
SCHNEIDER 99 ABs, allows 3 HRs and OPP SLUG%=313

SANTANA caught by CASTRO 333 ABs, allows 6 HRs and OPP SLUG%=297
SCHNEIDER 524 ABs, allows 15 HRs and OP SLUG%=401

PEDRO M caught by CASTRO 138 ABs, allows 2 HRs and OPP SLUG%=377
SCHNEIDER 185 ABs, allows 15 HRs and OPP SLUG%=600!!!!!

Same phenomena holds with John Maine, Claudio Vargas and Nelson Figueroa. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Huh … those stats are worrisome, particularly since Schneider’s value as a ballplayer is tied directly to his defensive performance. If he can’t hit, AND can’t catch, how can the Mets move forward with him behind the plate?

Before we go piling on Brian and blaming him for all the Mets’ woes, let’s take a better look at what these numbers mean.

First of all, I don’t see the actual stats for Maine, Vargas, and Figueroa, so I’m taking for granted the source is telling the truth. Further, I don’t see any stats for Pelfrey, Perez, Smith, Schoeneweis, Stokes, Muniz, Sosa, Ayala, Wise, Rincon, Parnell, Knight, Niese, Armas, nor Kunz. Maybe the guys at RayRubin found similar trends, but didn’t deem it necessary to continue belaboring the point. Or, perhaps the split performances of the other pitchers don’t fit RayRubin’s argument, and thus were conveniently left out.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to say which is the case, because I can’t for the life of me find these individualized stats anywhere (if someone can, please send us the link!). All I can find is the “Catcher’s ERA” (CERA), which has Schneider at 4.11 and Castro at 3.68. Before we judge Castro the big winner there, consider that most statheads find CERA to be an unreliable indicator of a catcher’s performance.

But put all that aside for a moment, and let’s look at RayRubin’s reported numbers specifically. What could be the explanation for such a dire contrast in performance from Schneider to Castro? Right off the bat I’m seeing an issue with the sample sizes. Other than in the cases of Martinez and Santana, Schneider caught about double the ABs for each of the pitchers in question (with Heilman and Feliciano, it was nearly FOUR TIMES as many at-bats). Is it possible that Castro simply caught those pitchers on “lucky” days? What if the appearances were reversed — if Castro was the one to catch Heilman for almost 200 batters, for instance? Would Heilman have pitched extraordinarily better? No one knows for sure. These numbers suggest that Schneider looks bad simply because he was the guy that was usually behind the plate, rather than any negative impact he had on the pitching staff.

Which brings up another point — even if Castro was that much better as a receiver, it matters little since he couldn’t stay healthy enough to remain on the roster.

Looking at the rest of the defensive stats, Schneider has a fairly solid advantage over Castro (other than passed balls). Schneider threw out 21 of 63 (33%) runners attempting to steal, while Castro nailed 5 of 23 (21.7%). Passed balls — Schneider , Castro 1. Errors — Schneider 4, Castro 4. That last number is a bit scary, since Schneider caught 109 games and Castro only 47. If Castro caught, say, 120 games, he might have committed 10 errors or more. Another stat I can’t find anywhere is the number of wild pitches allowed per catcher. Though wild pitches aren’t necessarily a catcher’s fault, the better catchers minimize their occurrences. My eyes tell me that Schneider is much more nimble behind the plate than Castro, and my guess is that Schneider does a better job of keeping balls from getting past him.

As many of you know, I’m a catcher myself and so you may want to know my personal thoughts on this idea that Schneider is a prominent scapegoat. I have to say no — at least, I wouldn’t blame the Mets failures on Schneider’s defense or game-calling abilities. I do believe it’s possible that the pitchers who were with the Mets in previous years were probably more comfortable throwing to Castro, and I can tell you firsthand that it takes a while for a catcher to learn how to get the most out of a pitcher. When Schneider was swatting at balls early in the season, many wondered how a defensive specialist could commit so many passed balls. Anyone who’s caught at a fairly high level can tell you instantly — it’s hard as heck to catch a guy who (a) you haven’t caught before, or very often; (b) is throwing 90+; and/or (c) is wild. Since Schneider missed nearly all of spring training last year, he didn’t get a chance to catch the Mets pitchers as much as he should have. You can read the rest of my explanation on his passed balls here and here.

In other words, it probably took a while — probably half the season — for Schneider to both get comfortable with, and begin to learn how to extract the most from, the Mets’ pitching staff. A good catcher has to manage the pitcher’s emotions as well as his pitching repertoire, and also needs to know when and how to push / motivate a guy — and when to stroke his ego to build his confidence. In addition, the catcher needs to gain the pitcher’s confidence. When I look at those big slugging numbers, I wonder if the extra-base hits were due to Schneider calling a bad pitch, or the pitcher shaking off a pitch? We all remember that fateful NLCS game, when Guillermo Mota continually shook off Paul LoDuca; sometimes the catcher has the right idea, but the pitcher either doesn’t have confidence in the call, or doesn’t have confidence in himself to throw the pitch. Who is to blame in such a situation?

Assuming that Schneider returns to catch in 2009 — and all signs seem to point that way — I believe that the numbers cited above by RayRubin will improve, based on the fact that Schneider will have a better “feel” for his pitchers, and in turn, the pitchers will be more comfortable, and have more faith, in him. In short, NO — Brian Schneider does NOT stink — and the pitching staff can only improve with the continuity of Schneider behind the plate in 2009.

(Schneider has at least one more thing going for him — as of today, Martinez, Heilman, Wagner, and Vargas are not on the 2009 roster … so those terrible numbers can’t get any worse!)

******** Shout out to “isuzudude” for suggesting this subject *******


Schneider, Castro Available

According to Jon Heyman, the Mets are open to trading catchers Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro.

To which my reply is, who cares?

I do not doubt the Mets are open to trading either — or both — of those players. And I’m sure that Heyman’s information is reliable and legitimate. But again, why would anyone in MLB care that Schneider and Castro are available? What kind of value do they have?

Castro is a solid backup catcher who would probably benefit by moving to the American League, where in a DH role his powerful bat can be used more often. But his mobility gets worse every year, and even in a backup role has difficulty staying healthy. Those factors, along with his age (33 by Opening Day) and price tag ($2.5M), may scare away potential suitors. Still, finding a backup backstop who can hit like Castro are hard to come by, so perhaps a team would be willing to trade a AA pitcher for him.

Similarly, Brian Schneider is not getting younger — he’ll turn 32 next Wednesday — and there are scouts who think his defensive skills are eroding. If that’s true, Schneider doesn’t have much value at all — he certainly doesn’t scare anyone with his bat. His offensive output — particularly in terms of extra-base hits — was reminiscent of Rey Ordonez. As a former catcher myself, I love Schneider, and do believe he’s solid defensively, but unfortunately, at this stage of his career, I’m not sure he’s the game-changer behind the plate that he used to be. I would not be disappointed in the least if he returned to the Mets in 2009, and I don’t know what the Mets would get in return for him.

If the Dodgers follow through with the idea of transitioning Russell Martin to third base, then they might be interested in one of the Mets’ catchers. The Red Sox could be in the market, if they choose not to bring back Jason Varitek, but I’d think they’re after someone younger and with more offensive potential, such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Yankees might need a backup plan to Jorge Posada, and there are a few other teams actively seeking help behind the dish. Perhaps the Tigers would like a catcher so that Brandon Inge can remain a super utilityman.

In my opinion, the Mets will look to move a catcher only after acquiring one. There were rumors about Ivan Rodriguez wanting to sign with the Mets, and others that the Mets were trying to pry Bengie Molina away from the Giants. The Orioles have Ramon Hernandez on a permanent trading block, so he’s always a possibility. Any of the three would be an upgrade over Schneider, and/or could be an ideal platoon partner.

That’s the idea that makes the most sense to me — moving Schneider into more of a platoon role, and teaming him with a similarly highly skilled, veteran catcher who also needs frequent breathers. As much as I love Ramon Castro, I don’t see him getting through a full season without an injury — otherwise he’s the perfect fit.

We’ll see what the market bears. If the Mets can pick up a decent starting pitcher or middle reliever, it’s worth dealing one of their backstops. Looking around the roster, there aren’t many other areas of surplus from which to trade.