To get a sense of what not having much money does to a team’s ability to compete, take a look at what’s going on at catcher for the Mets. (Try as I might to just write a piece about player acquisition, I think it’s an incomplete job at best if not put into financial perspective.)
The Mets have Josh Thole, a perfectly reasonable first option at catcher. He bats left-handed, has struggled (in few appearances) against left-handed pitching. But offensively, he’s above-average against righties for a catcher. So the perfect solution is to pair him with a very good right-handed hitting catcher.
And catchers who can play 60-70 games and mash lefties aren’t especially expensive, since most teams don’t have a Josh Thole already. Someone like Kelly Shoppach is a free agent, will probably get around $2 million to sign, and has a career OPS of .909 against lefties.
But just before signing his many relief pitchers, Sandy Alderson let it be known that the plan was to go with what they had at catcher. And tonight, at the non-tender deadline, the Mets are expected to cut Ronny Paulino loose.
Who is likely to fill the void? Either Mike Nickeas, a good defensive catcher who doesn’t appear able to hit, or Lucas May, one of three minor leaguers the Mets signed today. And as Ted Berg points out, May has displayed the ability to hit lefties well at a number of minor league stops.
But it is also important to put those numbers in perspective, something Major League Equivalents (MLEs) do for us. That .339/.410/.642 line in 2010 against lefties looks great. But he did it for Alberqueque of the Pacific Coast League. What is the MLB translation for such production? .241/.308/.398. Afraid the change in levels, and the transition from the hitter-happy PCL, brings that number down quite a bit.
So let’s review, shall we? For around $2 million, they could retain Ronny Paulino- who, to be fair, got a great deal of criticism from within the team for his game-calling- or Kelly Shoppach. As mentioned, Shoppach’s career OPS against lefties is .909; Paulino’s is .860.
Or for the major league minimum, they could get Lucas May, whose best production at Triple-A against lefties still projects to just a .706 OPS.
Realistically, a major league team should have both, because if Shoppach is signed and gets injured, Plan B is necessary. So hopefully, that’s what happens. Sandy Alderson certainly knows how useful a lefty-masher as Thole backup is- he’s the one who signed Paulino to begin with last year.
However, if what Alderson effectively said turns out to be the case- they had money to spend on the bullpen, or a backup catcher, but not both-it is just a reminder that the current financial problems experienced by ownership are doing much more than just denying the fan base Jose Reyes, and will continue to erode the team’s ability to fix problems for as long as they remain.