Inbox: Mets going with Thole as No. 1 catcher?
Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers fans' questions
For a long time now, Mets fans have been waiting, aching, yearning for 2011 to end. But will 2012 be any better? That's the top question facing this team with seven weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Here are some of the other questions on your mind as we descend into the New Year:
Are the Mets doing anything to address the catching position? They seem to be very high on Josh Thole for some reason, but given that he led the league in passed balls and is not much of an offensive threat, it leads me to feel that the Mets would do well to find other options behind the plate in 2012.
-- Daniel T., Queens, N.Y.
Daniel's stance seems to be a popular one, with many readers wondering if the Mets might pursue veteran catcher Jason Varitek to replace Thole as their everyday backstop. The answer, which general manager Sandy Alderson spelled out quite clearly during the Winter Meetings, is a pretty definitive no.
Remember that this is a club operating on a strict offseason budget, with nearly all its available money spent but still in need of pitching and bench help. The Mets are not blind to the fact that Thole has struggled defensively over the past two seasons, and if some foolproof solution existed on the free-agent market, they would probably pursue it. But the reality of the market is that every available catcher has significant blemishes, with no guarantee that any of them would even be an upgrade over Thole. Meanwhile, the Mets can still pay Thole -- one of the team's hardest workers -- close to the league minimum for another season and hope he develops into a stronger overall player.
The counterargument is that a veteran such as Varitek would be a positive influence on a developing clubhouse, and on Thole specifically. But right now, the Mets simply don't have the luxury of shelling out significant cash for 39-year-old positive influences. Perhaps the Mets could learn just as much from someone who shows up to the clubhouse at 6:45 a.m. each day in Spring Training, determined to overcome the shortcomings in his game by outworking everyone else.
In other words, they could do worse than Thole.
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I was wondering if there is any possibility of the Mets making Mike Pelfrey a closer. I think maybe the shortened role would let him just go all out without worry of eating innings. That might help his fastball and he can junk some of his secondary pitches, which are average at best.
-- Paul P., Auburn, N.Y.
The Mets effectively nixed this idea last summer, despite the fact that it intrigued both Pelfrey and manager Terry Collins. Simply put, the Mets could not afford to convert Pelfrey to relief for the same reason they could not afford to non-tender him -- he is the team's most reliable source of innings, consistent or not.
It would be fascinating to see how Pelfrey might fare in the bullpen, considering such a role would allow him to rely more heavily on his low-90s sinker -- by far his most effective pitch, but one he has used with decreasing frequency over the past few years. Still, the Mets need innings more than they need experiments. Not to mention that with two years left until Pelfrey hits free agency, it's unlikely that agent Scott Boras would approve of a sudden switch to the less-lucrative world of relief.
Why not have Lucas Duda at first base and Ike Davis in right? Duda is a more compatible at first baseman, and Davis played right in college and has a great throwing arm, and is much quicker than Duda.
-- Berkeley Heights, N.J.
It amazes me how many Mets fans want to see either Duda or Daniel Murphy displace Davis at first base. Since Davis arrived in Flushing, all he has done is establish himself as one of the premier defensive first basemen in baseball, more valuable -- relative to his peers around the league, at least -- with his glove than with his bat. Yes, Duda and Murphy are both also best at first, but why mess with a good thing? Davis is already elite at the position. I understand that Davis is blessed with a strong arm and boasts outfield experience from his college days, but he also has put on considerable weight and suffered a career-altering ankle injury since then. His mobility is not what it used to be.
Duda, meanwhile, may never be a strong defensive outfielder, just as Murphy may never be a strong defensive second baseman. But the Mets believe in both of their bats, and ask only that they find adequacy at their adopted positions.
Then again, since we're on the subject ...
Although the odds are hardly ever in favor of position switches for everyday players, do you see any scenario with the Mets as constituted today where such a move would make sense?
-- Ken S., Hartford, Conn.
Make sense? No. But I would be intrigued to see how Davis might fare as a pitcher in the big leagues. Effective both as a starter and reliever during his time at Arizona State, Davis -- the son of Major League reliever Ron Davis -- threw in the high 80s, according to professional scouting reports (and in the mid-90s, if you ask him), on a staff that also included current Reds starter Mike Leake. Given some practice time to whip his arm into shape, it would be interesting to see how Davis' stuff would play in the big leagues.
But on a more realistic front, be sure to track the progress of recent Mets signee Adam Loewen this spring. A former top pitching prospect, Loewen converted to the outfield several years ago and is looking to make the team as a power-hitting threat off the bench.
Why'd the Mets let Chris Capuano go? He was a solid end-of-the-rotation starter and certainly a pleasant surprise coming off of an injury.
-- Cory B., Mahopac, N.Y.
Because with that strong season stamped on his resume, Capuano understandably entered this offseason looking for a multiyear contract. Seeking financial flexibility, the Mets had no interest in even approaching that market; the Dodgers obliged with a two-year deal.
Is there any chance Kirk Nieuwenhuis can win the center-field spot over Andres Torres? I cannot see Torres having a successful year at Citi Field.
-- Dylan N., Niskayuna, N.Y.
Not by Opening Day. The Mets have all but officially named Torres their starting center fielder and leadoff man, despite the protestations of some readers. But note that in addition to playing some of the best outfield defense in the league, Torres has posted a .332 on-base percentage over the past three seasons -- just four points lower than Angel Pagan, who was slated to bat leadoff prior to the trade.
Had Nieuwenhuis not suffered a season-ending shoulder injury early last summer, we might have been talking about him as the favorite to win New York's Opening Day center-field job. But given that lost development time, the Mets need Nieuwenhuis to produce for at least a half-season at Triple-A before they will give him a big league role.
Do you think Mike Baxter will be one of the backup outfielders for next year?
-- Jeremy C., Scotia, N.Y.
As it stands today, Baxter and Loewen are the two favorites to land backup jobs in New York. That may change if the Mets make an additional signing prior to Spring Training, looking to add veteran depth as they did with Willie Harris and Scott Hairston a year ago.
How can you say 27 is "not necessarily young" in the case of Daniel Murphy? What age do you consider young?
-- Frank M., Port Chester, N.Y.
This question is in response to an Inbox item from last month. There's a general rule of thumb in baseball circles that once a player reaches 26 or 27, he "is who he is" for the sense of evaluation. Most players peak around that age, maintain their level of production for a few years and begin to decline in their early 30s. Few improve dramatically once they have reached their late 20s.
Does that mean a 27-year-old player can never progress? Of course not -- some continue getting better throughout their early 30s, while others maintain their prime abilities for close to a decade. Then there are success stories such as Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays and Michael Morse of the Nationals, who both recently enjoyed breakout seasons at the age of 29. But such sudden surges in production are the exception, not the rule. My point was simply that Murphy is likely approaching the peak of his career arc, if he has not reached it already. That's not really a criticism of a player who ranked fifth in the league in hitting prior to his injury.
I don't want to be "that guy," but am I the only fan ruing the day that the Mets did not pull the trigger on trading for Roy Halladay? There's no doubt that Halladay is one of the top pitchers in the league. There's just as little doubt that Fernando Martinez is a bust.
-- Matt F., Farmingdale, N.Y.
Sure. The Mets probably regret trading Tom Seaver, too.
It's easy to look back and say the Mets should have traded for Halladay in 2009, just as it's easy to criticize umpteen other deals made and not made over the years. But recall that to land Halladay, the Mets would have reportedly had to give up not only Martinez, but also Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell and Ruben Tejada, forcing them to part with three of their top five prospects for a 32-year-old pitcher with significant mileage on his arm.
In hindsight, of course that deal would have gone in New York's favor, given Halladay's freakish production since that summer. But recall that Martinez was one of baseball's top overall prospects at the time, coveted by nearly every team in the league. Parnell was a young reliever capable of throwing triple-digit heat. Niese was the organization's top pitching hope.
The deal hinged on Martinez, and almost no one in baseball foresaw the outfielder's fall from super prospect to apparent bust. But that's the nature of the game. Sometimes, can't-miss prospects miss.