Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bon Voyage, Barajas... Josh Thole, Here Are The Keys

It's been a good run, Rod! Well-liked by all accounts by all the Mets, Barajas was just shipped off to Los Angeles in a straight up waiver claim.

There was much hand-wringing in Mets circles about the Mets promoting Barajas and carrying three catchers. Obviously, with the Mets out of the race, educated Mets fans would all prefer Josh Thole be doing the bulk of the catching duties as an audition for next year. At the time, I said:
This arrangement might last a week at most, as Blanco or Barajas might get flipped through a waiver trade. It’s not worth all the wringing of hands and “wah wah same old Mets” attitude. It’s bad enough that the product on the field is pedestrian… we don’t need to wallow in things that mean nothing. If I’m wrong and this arrangement lasts the season and Thole loses playing time, then I’ll complain. A lot.
In any event, it looks like we, once again, are getting what we asked for.
The Mets’ commitment to younger players continued Sunday when the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed catcher Rod Barajas off waivers and the Mets declined to pull him back. That leaves Josh Thole, who has been considered the Mets’ catcher of the future for the past year or so, as the catcher of the present, too. Allowing Barajas to go signals the Mets believe Thole is ready to catch every day.

I have been lambasted for this position before, but I'm *real* happy with the way the Mets have handled themselves through this lost season. Are they perfect? No. But as we've pointed out here before, they are making most of the moves that we want them to make.

In this transaction, the Mets will save a little money and get Thole the playing time he deserves. Aside from the obvious warts (Castillo and Perez) there really is not much else left to ask the Mets to do. Fernando is playing every day in Triple-A, and according to what I've heard, the Mets have begun discussions of what to do with Jon Niese as his workload continues to increase.

I liked Barajas, and it was nice to have him here, but it's clear that this works out better for everyone (not to mention that Henry Blanco might be better anyway). I've been a huge Thole fan all along, so I'm glad to see him get a shot. He'll have some bumps, but I think he'll be a perfectly adequate catcher who will be very cheap for the Mets for a long time.

We discussed how much we liked Josh Thole, and how we'd prefer him to a free agent acquisition, in the preseason.
Rod Barajas is coming off a season where he hit .226/.258/.403 with 19 home runs. Sure, the power is great, but we are talking about a guy who posted a lower OPS than Anderson Hernandez did last season. Even Jeremy Reed, who couldn't hit his way out of a paper bag last season, posted an on-base percentage of .301 -- or 5% higher than Barajas.

* * *

I don't think that Thole is ready to dominate the National League. In fact, I think Thole might end up being a better baseball player over his career if he had more time in AAA to learn and maybe hit for a little power. However - if there ever was a time to throw a rookie into the fire, it is now.

Thole had an excellent year last year. In AA, he hit .328/.395/.422 over 384 at-bats. He followed that up with a line of .321/.356/.396 in the majors over a short 53 at-bat visit. He struck out less than 10% of the time in the majors, and owned a 42-34 walk to strikeout ratio in the minors.

* * *

Even being pessimistic, I see good things for Thole. An average between .280-.300 is attainable, an on-base percentage between .310-.330, and a slugging percentage between .350-.370.

* * *

The Mets need to be very careful this offseason. There is not a lot of money to go around, and there are a lot of things that need fixing. A few million here or there might not sound like a lot, but if you sign a catcher, and then two guys like Cora and Redding from last year - that adds up.

I'm not dead set against bringing in a more experienced guy to platoon with Thole or give him a few months in AAA, but I think it would be a big mistake to sign any of the guys that have been linked to the Mets so far in rumor.
Moving Barajas ultimately is five months late, but it wouldn't have made a difference this year. Let's just hope we continue to see such good moves going forward. It looks like I may have - for the sake of not wanting to appear too much of a bright-eyed optimist about our own prospects - too pessimistic about Thole. His current batting line of .292/.364/.354 is far superior to my forecast, and he's already been worth 0.7 WAR according to fangraphs. Just spitballing here, that's around 2 Wins Above Replacement for a full season, which is phenomenal for a young, cost-controlled catcher.

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