Archive: October 9th, 2007

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.


Free Agents: Work with Supply

After analyzing the potential free-agents, it appears that the market is not a favorable option for fulfilling the Mets’ needs. As a result, there are three considerations:

1. Actively pursue a trade or trades;
2. Look within the organization; or,
3. Work with what the market offers.

Actually, there is a third option: all of the above. Which is what the Mets will likely do — and this isn’t exactly a newsflash or original thought.

However, there are some issues with the first two considerations, which we’ll get to. First, let’s re-evaluate the major issues in re-tooling the Mets.


Middle Relief
Second Base
Starting Pitching
Corner Outfielder (?)

Note: the above IS in a particular order. As of November, the Mets will not have a catcher on their roster — all four of their 2007 backstops will be free-agents. That said, I’d hope that finding a catcher is the highest on the list of Omar’s priorities. As Casey Stengel said after making Hobie Landrith the first Mets’ expansion pick in 1962: “You gotta have a catcher or you’re gonna have a lot of passed balls.” Because the Mets’ bullpen was particularly awful, and their game plan is directly dependent on the bullpen, finding quality relievers is a high priority. Second base is an issue if Luis Castillo is not re-signed, though Ruben Gotay is an in-house option. With Pedro and El Duque somewhat questionable due to health concerns, picking up a starter has importance. A corner outfielder could be needed if the Mets are looking to move Lastings Milledge for an arm, and/or Moises Alou doesn’t return, and/or they’re not convinced Milledge is ready to be a full-time starter.

After evaluating the free-agent position players, relief pitchers, and starting pitchers, we’ve seen that there is a dearth of catching, second basemen, and relief pitchers — all Mets needs. So it may be wise to re-sign LoDuca and Castillo. Sure, there’s always the trade route, but how many chips do the Mets have to offer? And who is out there who might be a) available, and b) attainable with those chips? I doubt that the Rangers would trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Gerald Laird in return for Guillermo Mota, for example — and probably not even for a package of Mike Pelfrey and Lastings Milledge. Other than Milledge, Pelfrey, Philip Humber, and maybe Kevin Mulvey, who do the Mets have to offer in a trade that has any kind of value? Realistically, I mean — it’s not like anyone’s interested in Carlos Delgado’s declining skills and $20M cost commitment, and it’s safe to say the “nucleus” — Beltran, Reyes, Wright, Maine, Perez, Pedro — are staying put. And I’m not sure you want to trade Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, or Billy Wagner, considering that the bullpen is already a disaster.

That said, maybe it makes sense to work with what the market offers, rather than looking to fill needs — and then adjusting as necessary.

For example, the one place where we see plenty of names is in the supply of free-agent starting pitchers. As we’ve discussed, most are question marks for one reason or another, so there is a bit of a risk involved. However, consider the risk of bringing in, say, Jon Lieber or Bartolo Colon to be a back-end starter, compared to signing Jorge Julio or Antonio Alfonseca to handle seventh inning duties. Or, gambling on Jason Jennings to be a #3 starter compared to hoping 39-year-old Russ Springer can have another career year?

There is depth in the starting pitching availability. From this vantage point, it makes sense to sign one or two “non-questions” such as Carlos Silva and/or Livan Hernandez, as well as considering the aforementioned Lieber and Colon, and looking to them to eat innings as starters. All of the four have been 7-inning pitchers in the past, and if you can’t find quality relievers to pitch the sixth and seventh, why not try to fill those innings from the front end — from the starters?

Of course, part of this plan would require Willie Randolph to change his thinking about the 100-pitch count. Livan and Lieber have pushed past 115-125 consistently in the past, so there’s reason to believe they can continue that workload. Signing two or three starters could create a surplus, in which case you move one (or more) of the current starters to the bullpen. Candidate number one is Mike Pelfrey, who is essentially a two-pitch pitcher whose sinker is ideal for a relief role. Philip Humber could be another Adam Wainwright, and help the Mets out of the ‘pen for a year before moving full-time into a starting role (isn’t that what was supposed to happen with Aaron Heilman?). Maybe El Duque becomes a spot starter and occasional middle man.

After deciding on a catcher, the Mets’ biggest concern — by far — is what to do with the bullpen. Free agency doesn’t appear to offer much “relief” (pun intended), unless the Mets are willing to overpay for a closer (Francisco Cordero) and that pitcher is willing to be a setup man. Similarly, with everyone in MLB looking for bullpen help, it’s doubtful a team would trade away a reliable reliever — and if they did, the package would likely be steep. So the best idea may be to work with the strength of the market, rather than fight against its weakness. Grab some healthy starters, gamble on a few not-so-healthy starters, and be willing to shift some roles.