So for the better part of three years, the Mets seemed to have solved one half of their catching situation.
Josh Thole was a perfectly adequate platoon partner. He is lefty, hits righties at a .739 OPS clip, and is young and cheap.
But Thole, it appears, will be arbitration-eligible this winter for the first time, meaning he is about to become less cheap. He will be 26 in October, meaning he is distinctly less young (aren’t we all, though?). And it isn’t clear that he is the same player he’s been.
Consider that since he returned from a concussion earlier this year-and that wasn’t his first one-Thole is hitting .240/.294/.285 in 196 plate appearances. It is easily his worst stretch since he started the 2011 season hitting .207/.280/.241 in his first 122 plate appearances. So it isn’t unprecedented, but it also argues against Thole having developed any, and leaves open the uneasy possibility that the concussions have taken their toll.
One argument for why his numbers have dipped precipitously relative to 2011 is the number of at-bats against lefties he’s had in 2012; just under 24 percent of them in 2012, after facing lefties just 10 percent of the time in 2011. But his numbers against righties aren’t much better in 2012 than his numbers against lefties, with his strong side of the platoon split down to just a .636 OPS in 2012.
What is so frustrating about this development is that the Mets finally have, in Kelly Shoppach, the perfect platoon partner for the 2009-2011 Josh Thole. Shoppach eats lefties for breakfast (metaphorically, of course), so in a perfect world, Thole recovers, and the Mets have a low-cost catching tandem that won’t prevent the 2013 Mets from contending. (They have plenty of other weaknesses to make that happen.)
But Thole’s regression has me wondering if Kelly Shoppach is auditioning for more than just a platoon role on next year’s Mets. Is Thole going to be worth what the Mets would have to pay him in arbitration this winter? Is he still capable of providing enough pop from the left side to justify the platoon? It isn’t as obvious to me as it was a few months ago; and I’m betting it isn’t to the Mets decision-makers, either.