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.
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?