Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rod Barajas and the Mets' Catching Situation

The Mets signed yet another catcher over the weekend, giving Rod Barajas a one-year deal and the inside track on the starter's job next season. This presumably spells the end of Josh Thole's candidacy for the position - a rare and welcome development from the traveling circus that has become the Mets' front office.

Three good months in Double-A does not make someone ready for the major leagues. Thole has promise - his stint in Venezuela this winter helps to confirm that - but he is nowhere near ready to catch 125 games in the National League. The Barajas signing ensures that Thole will start the season in Buffalo (or perhaps even in Binghamton), so that he can continue to learn and develop as a catcher.

The Barajas signing creates a mildly interesting scenario in that there are now five catchers in camp for four jobs. Barajas and Henry Blanco is the likely catching tandem in New York, leaving Thole, Omir Santos and Chris Coste to battle it out for two spots in Triple-A. (Shawn Riggans is also in the mix, but I just don't see a place for him in this organization.)

Thole has to start wherever he ends up. Santos is a non-prospect, but the Mets would be better off trading him while he has a smidgen of value instead of sending him to Buffalo to back up the starter. If a deal cannot be struck, perhaps Thole could go back to Binghamton to start the season, which clears the way for Santos to start at Buffalo with Coste backing up. I am confident that by July 1, someone is going to be traded, injured or released, allowing Thole to move up and spend the rest of the season in Buffalo. If all goes well, it will be Thole's job to lose in 2011.

None of this is to say that Rod Barajas is a good baseball player. A playoff-caliber team would use someone like Barajas to back up a more talented and capable starting catcher. Barajas is the type of player that a bottom-feeder signs for a $1 million and tries to convince the fan base of how good a signing it was because "he hit 19 home runs last season."

Yeah, Barajas hit 19 home runs last season, but he also had an on-base percentage of .258. Nothing in his past body work suggests that Barajas is a good bet to even get on base at a 30 percent clip in 2010. Barajas can't hit for average and he is an incredibly slow base runner. In short, he's a bad #8 hitter who has enough pop in his bat to masquerade as a bad #7 hitter.

Here's a scary thought: if Barajas bats eighth and has Jeff Francouer and Daniel Murphy in front of him, National League pitchers are looking a run of four players (including the pitcher) who are unlikely to have an on-base percentage over .310 next season. That is a tremendous number of outs from the bottom half of the order.

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