Mets fans have been spoiled.
Gary Carter and Mike Piazza can do that to you. As Mets catchers, that duo were two of the best catchers in National League history. Their offensive production helped New York to a World Series championship in 1986 and a Fall Classic appearance in 2000, respectively.
How times have changed.
With Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas behind the dish, general manager Sandy Alderson has two of the most offensive-challenged, shall we say, backstops in all of baseball. Between the two of them, Thole and Nickeas are hitting a combined .238 with just two HR and 22 RBI.
So what is Alderson to do? Thole is his number one catcher and will remain so. He has been effective calling games during R.A. Dickey's magical carpet ride this year and has cut down on his passed balls as well. Nickeas' ceiling is very low. Neither appears to be the long-term answer.
With that being said, here are three possible solutions for the Amazins' offensive doldrums behind the plate:
1. Improve the lineup around them
Mets management seems committed to Thole and Nickeas. For now. There are not many great offensive catchers these days anyway so the next best thing would be to try and improve New York's offensive punch elsewhere in manager Terry Collins' lineup.
Some of the names being bandied about are players I've mentioned in a previous article—Jonny Gomes, Carlos Quentin, Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer and even Alfonso Soriano (if the Cubs are willing to pick up the vast majority of his ridiculous contract).
The Mets especially need some added power from the right side of the plate. Can Jason Bay, whenever he returns, provide that? Highly doubtful. He's been a huge bust and there is no indication he'll ever produce to justify his outrageous contract. If Anderson can get a bucket of baseballs for him, do it. Addition by subtraction. It's time to move on.
The few strong offensive catchers in baseball—Yadier Molina, Mike Napoli, Matt Wieters, Brian McCann, et al.—aren't going anywhere so it's imperative that Alderson look for other ways to add some sock. A couple of other names to keep in mind—Chase Headley of the Padres and Corey Hart of the Brewers. The odds are that Headley would probably be more likely to be dealt but it's worth looking into both players' availability by the July 31st trade deadline.
2. See what might be available at the trade deadline
The odds are the Mets are going to be keeping the status quo behind the plate this season but now that the MLB trade deadline is just over three weeks away, it certainly wouldn't hurt to test the waters and see what backstops might be available come July 31.
The days of the great hitting catcher (Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza) seems to have gone the way of the Hero Burger at Gino's. (Remember them? Wow, they were good.) It would behoove Alderson to see what may be available out there, especially if there is a right-handed bat that could replace Nickeas.
Backstops like Willin Rosario of the Rockies (14-36-.247) and talented Cuban product Yasmani Grandal of San Diego (4-6-.300 in just 20 at-bats) are young and inexpensive so their current clubs would be reluctant to part ways with them so quickly.
Alderson would have to focus in on veteran catchers like Ryan Doumit of Minnesota (7-36-.279) or Yorvit Torrealba (.258 career hitter) to supply leadership and some more offensive pop.
It's much more likely that the Mets would try and strengthen their bullpen first, but Alderson should see what might be available behind the dish anyway.
3. Keep an eye on Kevin Plawecki
With their supplemental round pick in last month's draft, the Mets selected the Purdue backstop with an eye towards the future.
It's doubtful we'll see Plawecki with the parent club this season unless he's brought up when rosters expand to 40 on Sept. 1. However, scouts really like his potential. He is a fine contact hitter, never hitting below .341 as a three-year starter for the Boilermakers.
In addition, he fanned just 29 times in 623 career at-bats at Purdue. Sounds a little like Thole, right?
Not really. Plawecki projects to be a line-drive hitter with more doubles power than Thole. Thole is primarily a singles hitter with a decent batting average for a catcher (currently .272).
This is indeed a pick for the future. Watch how Plawecki develops in the minors. He should develop more power potential as he gains more experience.
Is he the Mets' catcher of the future? It should be interesting to find out.
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