With all the hooplah surrounding the Mets, one player who usually gets put under the radar is Rod Barajas. This off-season, Omar Minaya avoided the temptation of signing Bengie Molina, a wise move that level-headed fans applauded. He instead signed two veteran catchers, Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco, to decent contracts, all the while keeping a plethora of backup options (Josh Thole, Chris Coste, Omir Santos, etc) ready. Thus far, the combination of Barajas and Blanco behind the plate has been solid, racking up 1.6 WAR on the season.
However, in typical Mets fan fashion, many have gotten caught up in Barajas’ homeruns and RBI totals instead of his humble 0.8 WAR. David Lennon at Newsday wrote an article entitled, “Mets would be wise to re-sign Barajas,” and although I can’t see much of it thanks to Newsday‘s silly paywall, I can guess the whole thing talks at length about leadership, handling New York, RBI/homers, and managing the pitching staff (i.e. very intangible things). Many Mets fans are in unison with Lennon on the issue, which is all the more upsetting.
There are currently fourteen other catchers in the National League alone with a WAR of at least equal to Barajas’ 0.8. Barajas has certainly exceeded my level of expectations, but those were low to begin with. Rod had an OBP of .258 (!) last season in 125 games, and his mark of .281 this year isn’t much better. However, his .500+ SLG gives him a solid .330 wOBA on the year. Unfortunately, ZiPS only projects him to slug .421 the rest of the way, good for just a .306 wOBA. Even with his career-high power streak this year, Barajas’ wRC+ sits at just 104, meaning that once his fly balls stop leaving the yard at his current rate, he’s doomed for below mediocrity.
So what can the Mets do rather than sign Barajas to an extension after he’s performed decently for three months? They can see see how the rest of the season goes and evaluate things in November. They can let him go and give a chance to Josh Thole, who had the following wOBA projections preseason:
Although Thole has struggled somewhat in Triple-A, he did perform well in a brief major league appearance in 2009. His defense isn’t great, but neither is Barajas’. Most importantly, he’s cheap and controlled by the team.
However, Thole doesn’t have to be the only option either. The Mets could attempt to buy low on Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta, a very good catcher who’s been displaced by the surging Miguel Olivo. Iannetta put up 5.7 WAR from 2008-09, and ZiPS has him projected for a .344 wOBA for the rest of 2010.
The Mets can sell high on Barajas at the trade deadline and put Thole and Blanco in a true platoon behind the plate. Due to the clubhouse issues and media attention, this one seems very unlikely.
Finally, the Mets can do what they did last season: cut ties with their major league catchers and just wait for something to fall in the off-season, a strategy that usually works especially well with catchers.
Last year, the Mets unnecessarily traded Ramon Castro to the White Sox because they were excited about the play of Omir Santos. You want to know what was said of Santos? He was energetic, handled the pitching staff well, a fan-favorite, could deal with the pressure of New York, and was hitting pretty well (pop, but no walks). Where is Omir Santos today? Hitting .105 for Double-A Binghamton. I’m not saying that Rod Barajas = Omir Santos (Barajas is clearly, clearly better); however, the Mets should just be extremely wary to overreact to a few months of average play from their catcher just because some buzz words have been thrown around. Hopefully Omar is listening.
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