When the Winter Meetings opened up on Monday, many Mets fans expected Sandy Alderson to return home with a new backstop. It turns out the trade market for catchers was thin, and asking prices were high. In addition, the free agent class of catchers is weak at best. Alderson came back from Nashville empty handed, but it is not time to panic just yet, as there are many options still available.
The Mets are looking for a right handed hitting catcher to pair with Josh Thole for the upcoming season. While I am not the biggest Josh Thole fan, I do believe that he will have a much better season offensively . While he is never going to be the slugging catcher every fan dreams of, I see Thole significantly improving his batting average in 2013. Thole is capable of batting in the .270 range, much higher than his .234 mark last season.
When looking at the free agent catchers, it is easy to see the lack of talent. The Mets have been linked to Miguel Olivo several times this off-season. While Olivo is known for his power, he has been unable to bat over .230 the past two seasons. Olivo also strikes out 26% of his plate appearances and only walks in 4% of them. He may be better than what the Mets have on their roster right now, but I see Olivo as more of a last result option. Kelly Shoppach is also a free agent, but the Mets were disappointed with his performance last season.
Speaking of the Mets’ roster, they claimed 29 year old catcher Anthony Recker off waivers on October 24th. Recker made the Oakland A’s opening day roster last season, but was not impressive in the 22 games he played. His minor league numbers are decent, but I see him more of a minor league depth catcher who should split time with Mike Nickeas in AAA Las Vegas. If Recker or NIckeas are on the 25 man roster come opening day, that would quite disappointing.
Since the internal options and free agents leave a lot to be desired, the trade market is the Mets’ best option to improve the catcher position. As the market stands right now, the best trade partners for the Mets are the Blue Jays and the Red Sox. Both teams have an excess of catchers on the roster right now.
After acquiring John Buck in the Miami blockbuster, the Jays have Buck, Arencibia and prospect Travis D’Arnaud on their 40 man roster. It has been rumored that the Mets have discussed trades with Blue Jays involving these players. D’Arnaud would be the best option, but as the best catching prospect in all of the majors (Mariners’ Mike Zunio a close second), D’Arnaud’s price tag may not be worth paying. I see Arencibia as an option that fits the Mets’ plans the best. While he is by no means perfect, Arencibia is still young and under team control for many years. He will not hit for a high average, but the power is there.
Over the past two seasons JP Arencibia has hit 41 home runs. While he would likely hit less at Citi Field, his power would still be a welcome addition to this Mets’ team. Defensively I have seen Arencibia described as anywhere from slightly above average to below average. I would have to watch more of his tape myself to get a better feel for his skills behind the plate. I can’t imagine his hands and footwork being any worse than Thole’s, who I consider a weak defender. Arencibia was a 1st round draft pick of JP Ricciardi, who is now a part of the Mets’ front office.
Although he is going to play a lot of 1st base, the Red Sox’s recent signing of Mike Napoli leads me to conclude that they will be shopping Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Saltalamacchia is a very similar catcher offensively to Arencibia, but he is a switch hitter. I still see Arencibia as the better trade option simple because he is under team control for much longer, and he is slightly over a year younger.
Overall there is no doubt that the Mets need an upgrade at the catcher position. Let’s face it: the options to upgrade are not ideal. Other than D’Arnaud, there is no slam dunk option. While Arencibia would be nice, it has yet to be seen how much he would cost in a potential deal. My guess is that the Mets will either trade for Arencibia or sign Miguel Olivo by the time spring training opens up. If there is one lesson Mets fans have learned this off season thus far, it is that quality catchers are difficult to find.