Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE
With the non-tender deadline in the rear-view mirror, there's a new batch of free agents on the market, many of whom should be available on the cheap.
Perhaps because of the Mets' financial situation over the past few winters, Major League Baseball's annual non-tender deadline — the date by which teams must decide whether or not to offer arbitration-eligible players a contract for the upcoming season — has drawn my interest. The best players on the market will surely secure long-term, big-money contracts from some team in the league, and right now that team isn't very likely to be the Mets. That doesn't mean there's nothing to be had for the Mets in the free-agent market, though.
It's no secret that the Mets could use some help at catcher. Josh Thole struggled this year — perhaps as a result of the concussion he suffered — and might not be a shoe-in for the starting gig in 2013. At the very least, the Mets figure to bring in a right-handed hitter to complement Thole in a platoon behind the plate. They picked up Anthony Recker from the Cubs on waivers, but he's probably not Plan A.
They might find that player among those catchers who were officially non-tendered on Friday night. Four catchers joined the free-agent field: former Mets farmhand Jesus Flores, Wil Nieves, Geovany Soto, and Bobby Wilson. Nieves and Wilson aren't all that appealing given the Mets' needs. Let's have a look at Flores and Soto.
Taken by the Washington Nationals from the Mets in the 2006 Rule 5 draft, Flores probably should have been protected at the time. Since then, though, he's only put together 1,014 plate appearances with the team, which isn't much over the course of five seasons. He was in the minors for brief stints in 2009 and 2010, but he played the grand majority of his 2011 season there before he got 296 plate appearances with the Nationals in 2012. In total, his major league hitting line is .241/.289/.375, good for a .289 wOBA that's poor even by the lowly standards of catchers.
But Flores is a right-handed hitter, and in his limited time in the big leagues, he has flashed a decent bat against left-handed pitchers: .252/.305/.425, a .315 wOBA. That's still not great, but one of the things the Mets have lacked in recent history is power. He's far from a perfect player, but at the age of 28, Flores's pop against left-handed pitching would be a welcome addition.
There was a time that Soto was thought to one of the best young catchers in the game, and his rookie season was outstanding. He hit .285/.364/.504 with 23 home runs and an excellent .373 wOBA for the Cubs in 2008 and took home the Rookie of the Year award. He dipped to a .311 wOBA in 2009 but bounced back in a big way with a .387 wOBA in 2010. He struggled again in 2011, though, and when he came out of the gate hitting even worse in 2012, the Cubs traded him to the Texas Rangers, with whom he was an even worse hitter than he had been with the Cubs.
Like Flores, though, Soto is a right-handed hitter who has been a fantastic hitter against left-handed pitching. He's the owner of a .501 slugging percentage and .387 wOBA against them for his career, numbers that far surpass those of Flores. He wasn't very good against them in 2012, but he mashed against them as recently as 2011.
There's a lot to like about Soto, and if he's available for a reasonable salary, he's probably the Mets' best option. If he isn't, though, Kelly Shoppach has been nearly as good a hitter against left-handed pitching in his career as Soto. Flores doesn't appear to be on the level of either one of those two catchers as a hitter, but he might be the most affordable of the bunch. I'd take any one of the three on the Opening Day roster.