Rod Barajas Is Not the Answer to Your Prayers, Omar Minaya

I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised by reports that the New York Mets are going after Rod Barajas. Though most fans and observers alike acknowledged that the Mets’ greatest needs were in their tattered starting rotation, Omar Minaya has focused the bulk of his attention on his second-string catching corps, signing Henry Blanco, Chris Coste, and Shawn Riggans, and retaining Omir Santos, September callup Josh Thole, and farmhand Robinson Cancel.

Of course, it kind of makes sense that Minaya doesn’t think that any one of those six is a starting catcher. But he spent much of the offseason pursuing Bengie Molina, whom no one would mistake for Gabby Hartnett. Molina was the Mets’ second-highest free agent priority behind only Jason Bay, and after Molina jilted them a month ago, they remained unable to think of any other position on the diamond. Despite the number of backup catchers the organization already possesses — and the paucity of reliable batterymates in the starting rotation — the Mets still seem to be focused on finding 162 games worth of backstops.

Considering the massive holes on the team — a first baseman who can’t play first base, a right fielder with a career OBP of .311, and a starting rotation with one sure thing and four question marks — it’s hard to understand why the team is still fretting about upgrading from Henry Blanco to Rod Barajas, whose career OBP is exactly 8 points lower than Blanco’s.

Many people have already noted that the Mets’ offseason plan this year has seemed rudderless, including Ken Rosenthal. He explains that part of this is due to the Wilpons, the owners, who haven’t given Minaya a budget figure and also retain a great deal of influence over baseball operations. Some of Minaya’s moves make some sense in a vacuum: Jason Bay may be hard to distinguish from Josh Willingham, but he’s a three-win player with a booming bat and a legitimate presence in the lineup. And, certainly, no one would mistake Henry Blanco, Chris Coste, or Omir Santos for a true starting catcher. But no one would look at this team’s lineup and view left field or catcher as the team’s most pressing needs, either.

One of my favorite sportswriters, Allen Barra, tries to put a positive spin on all the madness, writing, “The good news is that the Mets can expect an enormous turnaround in fielding with the return of just two players — Carlos Beltran… and Jose Reyes.” And, of course, that’s the point. If the Mets can’t get healthy comeback years from Beltran, Reyes, and David Wright, then the rest of the offensive overhaul will hardly matter. And if they can’t get healthy comeback years from Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, and Oliver Perez, then little else will matter, either.

Still, if there’s one thing the Mets can count on, it’s the fact that they have a whole lot of people ready for spring training. Today’s the day that pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie — or, in the Mets’ case, pitchers, and catchers, and catchers, and catchers…




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


50 Responses to “Rod Barajas Is Not the Answer to Your Prayers, Omar Minaya”

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  1. bobo says:

    Alex, the tone of thie comes out a bit biased…you wouldn’t be a fan of a certain other NL East team would you?

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    • Steve says:

      I agree with bobo.

      Also, these days its very easy to make fun of the Mets, but this article is all over the place. You could say it’s rudderless.

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      • Biased? Me? Never! I, uh, just… Hey, what’s that over there?

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      • Steve says:

        the article may be all over the place, but it’s still a bit shocking that the Mets did nothing to their rotation this winter, no?

        I’m not even talking about signing Lackey, but not even someone like Garland? Really?

        I understand that the Wilpons are probably most of the problem, but it still seems a little crazy.

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      • Samuel Smith says:

        Oh, but they signed Josh Fogg!

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      • RonDom says:

        Biased against stupidity

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      • Steve 1 says:

        Other Steve (this is confusing…I’m the first Steve that commented):

        The Mets are a mess…there were about 10 smart moves they could have made that they didn’t. But I think bashing them for wanting to sign Rod Barajas to a minor league deal is not the best attack route.

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      • I’m not “bashing” them. I’m pointing out that this move is an excellent indicator for the way their offseason has gone: focusing obsessively on marginal catchers while almost totally ignoring every other aspect of the 25-man roster.

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  2. Samuel Smith says:

    Daniel Murphy isn’t about to terrorize the national league anytime soon, and there are certainly questions as to whether or not he can really be an everyday player, but I think his bat is the source of the Mets’ worries, at this point. He was an embarrassment in the outfield, to be sure, but I’d say he looked pretty comfortable at first base last season- and the stats would seem to back me up, as he posted a 7.6 UZR/150 in 101 games at first. Now he could go out there this season and be a defensive disaster, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Murphy blossom into a pretty nice defensive player (with a bat too weak for his position…).

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    • LeiterWagnerFasterStronger says:

      Said UZR/150 was the second-highest among NLers with 400-plus innings at first last season. His +/- ranked similarly.

      Small sample size concerns aside– and they’re considerable, I’ll stipulate– he didn’t fare too badly at the sack.

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  3. Ryan says:

    I can only imagine the retribution of Mets fans if (imo: when) their team fizzles before the All Star Break. But wouldn’t Mets fans willingly sacrifice this year to have Omar finally gone?

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  4. recca says:

    Murphy is most likely just a one year stand in for Ike Davis, who they hope will be ready in 2011.

    The 2011 free agent class for pitchers does look a lot better than it did this year with pitchers like Javier Vazquez, Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee, and possibly Aaron Harang/Bronson Arroyo. Still, they probably should have signed SOMEONE to help them out, even a guy with injury problems. I really do think the problem with the Mets is further up the chain than Minaya. How can you expect the guy to get anything done when you aren’t given a budget and are going player-to-player on a case by case basis?

    One question where is Odalis Perez, and why hasn’t he played in two years?

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  5. wobatus says:

    While Omar and his back-up catcher mania and other myriad wrongheaded moves are worthy of derision, please stop with the Bay is hard to distinguish from Willingham. It is nonsense. A couple of comments in that thread point that out pretty well. And I like Willingham as a player, and I wouldn’t even be shocked if he outplayed Bay this year. But Bay has been much better over his career.

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    • Everett says:

      If you think its reasonable to suggest that Willingham will outperform Bay this year, than why is the concept nonsense? Bay has had the better career, yes, but we’re interested in what will happen this year.

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      • wobatus says:

        Because a single year is a single year. I don’t think it is as likely as not. It just wouldn’t be shocking.

        Chone projection, which is closer than their career numbers, where Wilingham has often sat against righties, has Bay at .388 wOBA, Willingham at .361. And Bay’s UZR last year is a bit out of line with postitive Total Zone, and Dewan didn’t have him nearly as bad as UZR.

        Dave had the concept that they are not as far apart as people think. Oddly, fans have them closer in projection than chone, james or marcel, so they are actually farther apart historically probably than people think. That has now morphed to “Bay is indistinguishable from Willingham.”

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      • Fair point. Certainly, nobody’s paying Willingham $60 million. He’s not as good a player as Bay, but he’s not THAT much worse. (And he’s also not necessarily $60 million better than Angel Pagan, as strange as that sounds.)

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      • wobatus says:

        Yes, Bay likely got overpaid. Willingham would give you a reasonable poor man’s simulacrum, which would just allow Omar to squander the money elsewhere. Willingham’s best year was last year, .372 wOBA. Last year was pretty standard for bay, if you subtract his injury year. .397. They are pretty much .25 to .30 wOBA apart normally.

        Sorry to be touchy. It is bad enough being a Met fan. Most of your point seems spot on.

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      • PhD Brian says:

        last season was the only season that Willingham did not suffer from back problems for much of the season. SO it is likely last season is his true value when healthy. All the other years he was in pain most of the season, but still played.

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      • wobatus says:

        PHD Brian, so Wilingham has always had back problems that have cleared up and gone away in his 30s, never to return? He was always a .360-.365ish guy, he goes .372 and now it was all his back? I like Willingham and maybe he even builds on last year, but my limited knowledge of back issues suggest that years of back problems don’t just disappear.

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  6. Blaise says:

    Hahahaha! They can take him. Hated that guy as a Phillie.

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  7. MetsFan says:

    It’s too bad Paul LoDuca is already in a different camp. The plan is: 100 years of MLB catching experience is somehow going to upgrade the rotation.

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  8. Brian Benson says:

    Great article Alex right on the $$$$ in more ways than one….B

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  9. hernandezhof says:

    This article misses the point. There isn’t anyone out there right now that is better than what they have at first base, or in the rotation (maybe Washburn, but he won’t come to NY.)
    Barajas, however, is better than what the Mets have at catcher (albeit marginally).
    Complain all you want about the lack of moves earlier in the offseason by the Mets, but looking to sign Barajas now for a low dollar deal seems like a no brainer. Does anyone really think that Santos is a better choice?

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    • wobatus says:

      Right now? No, because all the pitchers better than Washburn were already signed.

      I am praying that Pelfrey has given up coffee, taken up valerian or ginko and is over the yips, that Ollie lost a few pounds, Maine thinks it is 2007 again, etc.

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  10. Rory says:

    I am a Mets fan and am cautiously optimistic. I think the plan with the catching was to sacrifice offense (which they certainly are) for good defensive catchers (which Blanco, Barajas, and even somewhat Santos are). I think that they are hoping that (if healthy) they can handle and harness mainly Ollie and Pelfrey’s potential.

    While I wish Omar had done more this offseason, the one thing he didn’t do was sacrifice the future by trading away prospects, most of which are at their lowest value anyway. I’m also hoping that the if he still has $ to spare sign Maya.

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    • Rob says:

      I agree with you Rory on your future points. The Mets did not trade away their future prospects BUT also did not sign any lucrative deals that were out there. Yes, the Mets needed to improve their pitching. But is signing Joel Pineiro to a 2 year $16 million deal the answer when all he has had is ONE productive season AND that was under pitching coach Dave Duncan. Sounds like Oliver Perez version 2.0 to me. Even Lackey was a bit overpriced. However, while other teams made lucrative contracts with players that were over rated, the Mets sat there. Yes, they were scratching their heads at times, but at least they did not compromise their future by trading under valued prospects or becoming under the burden of another Luis Castillo or Oliver Perez contract over their heads.

      And Alex, as for the first three paragraphs of this article, I am really impressed with your originality of jumping on the “Mets suck” bandwagon.

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      • JayMets9 says:

        Great point Rob. Let’s not forget Ben Sheets, who is getting paid $10 million and pitched how many innings last year?

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      • Rory says:

        I agree completely. I was actually hoping that the Mets didn’t sign Pineiro, Wolf, or Lackey (at that price). I also didn’t want them to get Hudson but thats when I thought he would a get a Castillo-type of deal. I think they should have signed Bedard especially considering the contract he got. I would have also liked Sheets or Harden. I’m still hoping they sign Maya or make a trade for Harang.

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      • Steve says:

        Come on, this is the Mets not the Marlins. They play in a brand new stadium in a huge market. they have a large payroll.

        They had a guy like Jason Marquis, who I’m not going to pretend is a world beater by any means, practically begging them to sign him before signing a 2 year $15M deal with the Nationals.

        My point is that the Mets could have signed that contract and not be “burdened” at all by the worst case scenario. Marquis could have helped them. Same with Garland. Same with Piniero.

        You guys are making it sound like these guys signed 4-5 year deals for 8 figures per year. They didn’t. Sure, I would have stayed away from Wolf, but none of these contracts would have burdened the Mets at all.

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      • wobatus says:

        It’s true that no one available was dead certain worth it for the Mets. Have to say it may be, shockingly, a case of admirable restraint.

        All I am saying, is give Niese a chance. :)

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  11. alexperez84 says:

    Besides last year when everyone war hurt in 2007 and 2008 this met team was vir i tually in first place all year long without a good bullpen down the stretch both years. i am supremely confident in this met team. Im not saying we can close up shop cause the mets are running with this division but i for one cant wait for this season to get under way.

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  12. John says:

    It’s gonna be fun to pass the Braves again this year.

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  13. metlosopher says:

    Alex, what would YOU have done to address 1B during the offseason? Assume that you are convinced that Ike Davis will be ready to start in 2011.

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  14. Blaise says:

    Adam LaRoche

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    • LaRoche would have been a fine stopgap, certainly. I’m not saying that the Mets HAD to replace Murphy at first base. But I think first base, and second base, and right field, and the starting rotation, are much bigger concerns than left field and catcher. And I think most Mets fans agree, even the ones who think I’m biased.

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  15. Omar says:

    Yeah the article may be biased, but the Mets are one of the five worst ran organizations in baseball. Is Omar Minaya even a noticeably better GM than Steve Phillips?

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  16. PhD Brian says:

    I hope the Nats finish above the Mets this season.

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  17. Scott Gianelli says:

    I think Minaya is hoping that signing a bunch of catchers very cheaply and hoping one of them steps up works out better than paying for established mediocrity. And he may even be right.

    The comment about Murphy’s fielding is invalidated by Fangraphs’ own ratings. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take a look at Russ Branyan at the price he’s likely to get, though. Or Felipe Lopez and Kiko Calero, for that matter. You might be able to get all three of those guys for the money the Mets were willing to offer Molina.

    I look at Piniero and see a guy with one good year and a bunch of mediocre ones. That puts him on the same level as what we already have, and I see no reason to pay for more of that.

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    • Steve says:

      This is point the Mets seem to be missing: even if guys like Piniero are on the “same level” QUALITY wise as what they have, the Mets needed to overpay to guarantee more QUANTITY.

      The point is that once one of “what they have” goes down, and they will, the NEXT guy on the depth chart is a large dropoff. By signing someone who is a good, solid bet to throw 175-200 innings, they insulate themselves from having their #6-7 starters in the rotation.

      Pushing one of “what they have” to the #6 starter spot should have been a basic goal of the offseason. The Mets have 3 guys in their rotation right now who didn’t crack 100 IP last season. They have exposed themselves to a huge, huge risk. And considering Garland signed for about $5M, it was a completely unnecessary risk.

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    • I admit, the Murphy dig was a cheap shot; TotalZone, UZR and Plus/Minus all agree that he was above average at first base last year. Fans had little confidence in him, but that’s anecdotal. The bat is a bigger concern.

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  18. Jim L. says:

    What a surprise, it’s fashionable to crap on the Mets. Heck, more often than not in my 40+ years of being a Mets fan it has been fashionable to crap on the Mets. Omar Minaya (who I admittedly hope to see fired soon) is literally criticized for everything he does. Had he overpaid for Molina or Pineiro, he would have been crucified. Had he failed to sign Bay, he would have been slaughtered. Had he traded good prospects for some other team’s overpaid guy (Harang or Meche) he would have been even more of a laughingstock than he already is. If any team besides the Mets were looking to sign Barajas to a minor league contract, it wouldn’t even register on fans’ radar.

    As for Murphy, he CAN play 1B. And he has a terrific line drive stroke and he’s making the league minimum. I’m a bit flabbergasted that the writer thinks he deserves derision of all people. How about giving the kid credit for being the only guy to dodge injury and do a solid job at a new position in NYC having had a grand total of 135 ABs above AA coming into 2009? The kid should get credit not ridicule.

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    • I’m not criticizing the Mets’ offseason moves because it’s fashionable. There is no way to look at the Mets’ offseason moves and say that they strategically make sense. The Mets were a very bad team last year, and it wasn’t just because of injuries: their starting rotation is a legitimate problem. They did not address it at all.

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      • Jim L. says:

        Yes, they should have added a starting pitcher. This isn’t fantasy baseball however. Wolf signed a crazy contract and if Minaya matched that he would have been a joke. Pineiro has had exactly one good season in the the past 7 years. Garland, Washburn didn’t want to play in NYC. Lackey clearly wasn’t coming to the Mets for less than a giant premium over what the Sox gave him. And if Omar had paid that premium, all anyone would be saying is that Lackey is coming off a 3.83 ERA and has missed a month each of the past two seasons. And Marquis isn’t good, period.

        I didn’t write the above list to make excuses for Omar, but rather to point out that this was a really horrible FA class of pitchers. The fact remains that he should have added a pitcher but I’m not sure I would have done anything different than Minaya did relative to the FAs available. And I definitely wouldn’t have given up quality prospects for somebody else’s bad contract.

        The bottom line is that the Mets gave up 42 more runs in 2009 than they did in 2008 BUT they scored 128 fewer runs in ’09 than they did in ’08. The amount of injuries they had on offense was absurd in 2009 and I would challenge you to plug their projected 2010 numbers into any model and NOT come up with at least 75 more runs scored than they had in 2009. Their starting pitching is obviously a question mark coming into 2010 but it’s hard to envision them not improving on the 5.84 ERA they got from 62 starts from Perez, Redding, Livan, and Parnell. No, this is not a 90 win team. But It is absolutely not a 70 win team either.

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    • Steve says:

      I agree that Murphy himself doesn’t deserve derision. It’s the FO that deserves the derision for expecting to contend with such a weak bat at 1B. Murphy is doing the best he can. Unfortunately, his best shouldn’t be anywhere near the starting lineup of a team that had a $145M payroll last season.

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  19. Zonis says:

    come on guys, this is all just part of The Contest!

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