Like most observers, I believe the rumors about Jose Reyes this week have distracted from what will truly define the New York Mets’ winter: the pursuit of Jake Fox.
Okay, so that may be a slight exaggeration. But seeing the Baltimore Orioles outright Fox this week caught my attention, because he is a nice fit for the 2012 roster in many ways.
1. Can this player help the Mets? He sure can. Fox is a lefty-masher who can play first base, left field, right field and (drumroll please) catcher.And the Mets, as presently constructed, can use a righty hitter to complement Josh Thole. Interestingly, Fox hasn’t been great against lefties in limited big league opportunities, but has absolutely crushed them at every minor league level, leading me to believe this is just a sample size issue. Fox can also back up Ike Davis at first and Lucas Duda, the presumed right fielder, both of whom are left-handed.
Incidentally, the Mets would already have a Fox on the roster if they’d taught Nick Evans to catch. It’s not too late, you know. But as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You play with the Nick Evans you have, not the Nick Evans you wish you had.” And the ability to fill the role of backup catcher isn’t a small difference here.
2. What kind of contract can he expect? A small one. Probably a minor-league deal with major league salary not far above the league minimum.
Adding Fox as the backup catcher will also allow the Mets to save money by non-tendering Ronny Paulino, who can expect a raise in arbitration from last season’s $1.3 million.The difference between Paulino’s expected $2 million and the league minimum Fox may not sound like much, but it could make the difference in the team’s offseason pursuit of a center fielder. Think a platoon partner for Rick Ankiel, for instance, if they decide to non-tender Angel Pagan. There aren’t any obvious center field upgrades on Pagan out there, but there might be a platoon partner out there who can combine with Ankiel, for instance, to make up a collective Pagan Plus. And thinking ahead to the 25-man roster: if Fox can fill both the Nick Evans role and the backup catcher role, that opens up an extra roster slot for a platoon in center field.
3. Can the Mets afford him in 2012? Let’s put it this way- if they can’t afford to pay a guy near the league minimum, they’ve got bigger problems than how to pay a backup catcher.
4. What is the maximum amount the Mets should offer him? I could see something like a minor/major split contract, 500K/600K if he stays on the roster all year. Much more than that, and you’d probably be better off signing a lefty-masher catcher with more of a track record. The point here is to save a little money and add flexibility, at the expense of some track record risk.
5. What are the chances I think he is a Met in 2012? Not especially high, as there haven’t been any rumors linking Fox to the Mets. But the front office has to be aware of both the lack of depth within the organization at catcher, they haven’t seemed enamored with Ronny Paulino’s 2011, and so a Fox deal wouldn’t surprise me, either.