As recently as yesterday morning, it was assumed that free-agent catcher Yorvit Torrealba would be a New York Met in 2008. It was reported that the two sides had reached a three-year $14.4 million agreement and all that was left was a routine physical.
But something happened.
By Saturday afternoon, reports trickled out. The deal was dead, and talks had ceased altogether, making a post I had been drafting in preparation for the signing (entitled “Oh God, No”) uttlerly useless.
Here’s the thing. There was speculation that if Jorge Posada were to test free agency, that the Mets were going after him with a vengeance. Not because signing him away from the Yankees would make backpage headlines, but because they hoenstly thought that he was clearly the best option:
Free Agent Catchers* in 2007-08 – At least the ones you’ve heard of…
(with Age and Career OPS)
Paul Bako (35, .621)
Rod Barajas (32, .696)
Michael Barrett (31, .747)
Sal Fasano (36, .687… Stache.)
Jason Kendall (33, .768)
Jason LaRue (33, .723)
Mike Lieberthal (35, .783)
Paul Lo Duca (35, .752)
Damian Miller (38, .740)
Doug Mirabelli (37, .724)
Jose Molina (32, .624)
Yorvit Torreabla (29, .705)
*Mike Piazza is no longer a catcher. Get over it, Mets fans. He ain’t comin’ back.
As you can see for yourself, it’s just not an inspiring bunch. Catchers notoriously hit a wall once they hit 32-33 years old. 99.9% of them do not have their career seasons at 36 years old like Posada did. Simply put, it’s a terrible year to be looking for a catcher. The available ones are either has-beens or never-wills. Which is why the Mets had offered a contract to Torrealba. He was the only one under 30 who had a prayer of posting a .700+ OPS in 2008. The market is just that bad. And it’s not going to improve next year either, when the top names (if they remain unsigned) will be Jason Varitek, Pudge Rodriguez, and Kenji Johjima, who will all be a year older, obviously.
Obtaining a good catcher via free agency is very difficult. Let’s say that a catcher is drafted by an MLB team at the age of 20. This team does not have to add this player to the 40-man roster for three years. If they make it this far, then there’s six more years until he becomes eligible for free agency. A 29 year-old catcher does not have the same body as a 29 year-old outfielder. Moreover, teams know this and lock up their franchise backstops to reasonable long-term deals before they regret losing them. So what you generally end up with is a list of guys who are on the wrong side of 30 or wasn’t good enough to merit a long contract.
In 2007, there were 8 catchers with 400 plate appearances who OPSed over .750. Out of this lot, only Josh Bard made his MLB-debut with a different team than his current employers. Perhaps moreso than any other position, homegrown talent is by far the best way to go to find yourself a quality catcher, it seems. Only problem is, the Mets never really have produced a quality catcher in their franchise’s 44-year history (apologies to Todd Hundley).
But without such an option, where do the Mets turn now? As I write this, there appear to be three options:
- Trade for Ramon Hernandez – Two years ago, the Mets simultaneously offered contracts to both Hernandez and Bengie Molina but neither ended up at Shea. But with the Orioles facing yet another off-season that’s lacking direction (are you rebuilding or trying to win now?), there’s speculation that Hernandez is available. But the Orioles are reportedly asking for a top-flight prospect.
- Trade for Gerald Laird - With the arrival of Jarrod Saltalamacchia in Arlington, Laird’s name has appeared in trade rumors. He’s only 28 years old and he will certainly not cost as much as Hernandez to acquire. But there are two problems here – Saltalamacchia’s near future may be at first base, which doesn’t make Laird redundant, and even at 28, he’s only had 881 big league at-bats, during which he’s posted a sub-.300 OBP.
- Start Ramon Castro - One signing that didn’t make much waves is the news that the Mets are keeping Castro around for the next two years. The man (whose head is absolutely gigantic…) who homered in over 7.5% of his ABs in 2007 is currently the only viable option the Mets possess. He slugged .556 in 144 ABs this past year, but not even the most optimistic of Mets fans expect this to continue into 2008.
To me, the best option appears to be the third at this stage of the game. Hernandez is a 31 year-old coming off an injury-plagued year. Laird has never shown that he’s worth giving up anything to acquire him. So why not give Castro a shot? At least until something better comes along, of course…