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Finding a Second Catcher for the Mets

Mike Nickeas: Opening Day backup catcher? (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Mike Nickeas: Opening Day backup catcher? (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Getty Images

With the non-tender of Ronny Paulino, there's a bit of a question regarding who the Mets will use as their second catcher next season. It's not unheard of for a player to re-sign with a team after a non-tender, but given the relatively low salary Paulino would have earned in arbitration, it doesn't seem like he'll be back with the Mets.

The in-house candidates for the job are Mike Nickeas, who turns 29 in February and has been in the Mets' farm system since 2006, and Lucas May, who is 27 and joined the Mets earlier this week.

Between 2010 and 2011, Nickeas spent a little time in the big leagues for a total of 69 plate appearances. It's an incredibly small sample, but in that time, he hit .190/.239/.254, which is obviously not good. His career totals in the minors are .237/.329/.342, most of which has occurred in either AA or AAA between 2005 and 2011. Catchers don't generally produce much offensively, but Nickeas would probably be even more of a liability at the plate than the grand majority of his positional peers.

May, who had one cup of coffee with the Royals in 2010, has had some good years at the plate in the minors, especially against left-handed pitching, as Ted Berg noted. He's not exactly the ideal option, but it seems reasonably possible that he could step in for the gig. Plus it would give the Mets two guys name Lucas, which is something.

If the Mets look outside the organization for help behind the plate, the pickings are pretty slim. Given the free-agent market, the Mets could opt to play Josh Thole in 120 games or so while letting Nickeas catch the remainder. While Thole's career splits are drastic, he's faced left-handed pitching so infrequently that it's far too early to say he is incapable of hitting it at the major-league level. That very well may be the case, but one of the downsides of having Paulino around this year was that the Mets didn't get to see what Thole could do against left-handed pitching.

There are eleven remaining free agents at the position, most of whom are not good hitters. As for defense, the great work of Mike Fast at Baseball Prospectus regarding pitch framing and Bojan Koprivica at The Hardball Times regarding pitch blocking helps paint a picture, and there's also the Defensive Runs Saved metric.

Let's have a look at the remaining free agents, their 2011 and career wOBA, and the defensive data. Framing Runs are from 2007 through 2011, Blocking Runs are from 2008 through 2011, and Defensive Runs Saved are from 2008 through 2011. It's all sortable, too.

Player 2011 wOBA Career wOBA Framing Runs Blocking Runs DRS
Chris Gimenez 0.266 0.254 6.4 -- --
Chris Snyder 0.340 0.317 10.3 -2.1 -2
Dioner Navarro 0.261 0.290 -18.9 -2.8 3
Eli Whiteside 0.251 0.268 14 -2.2 2
Ivan Rodriguez 0.265 0.343 5.5 1.6 3
J.R. Towles 0.245 0.258 -7.6 -- -5
Jason Varitek 0.318 0.336 -17 2.9 -1
Koyie Hill 0.241 0.252 -24.6 2 3
Ramon Castro 0.332 0.315 -7 0.6
Rob Johnson 0.248 0.259 -24.6 -7.8 6
Ronny Paulino 0.289 0.309 9.6 0.4 2

If the Mets intend to fill the role vacated by Paulino, the two options that seem to make the most sense are Chris Snyder and former-Met Ramon Castro. Both have the ability to hit left-handed pitching. Unlike Paulino, they're not that bad against right-handed pitching, either. The problem with Snyder would likely be salary, as he made $4.5 million this year and might not be seeking a pay cut for 2012. With Castro, there would be questions about his ability to catch 40 games at the age of 36.

Most of the other names aren't all that appealing, mainly because of age, a lack of offensive ability, or both. Signing the cheapest of the free agents while stashing Nickeas and May in Buffalo for depth and development seems like the best way to go unless the market for backup catchers is really out of the Mets' price range.