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.