1:23 pm Aug. 15, 20122
The New York Mets have been in need of a backup catcher precisely like Kelly Shoppach, who they acquired Tuesday from the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named later, since last winter.
At the time, of course, Sandy Alderson acknowledged that financial constraints had forced him to choose between adding a pair of bullpen arms, in Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, and improving at backup catcher.
If the full ramifications of that choice were not immediately obvious, they have been plain since then.
In Josh Thole, the Mets have a reasonable alternative to play the left-handed part of a platoon at catcher. He's posted an O.P.S. of .671 against righties this season, down slightly from his .722 career O.P.S. against them. In a league where catchers are putting up a collective O.P.S. of .729, that isn't great, but is far from unacceptable.
The problem with Thole, however, is his ability to hit lefties. He's at .512 O.P.S. against them in his career, .562 in 2012. So combining Thole with a capable lefty-masher at catcher made sense last winter, and makes sense now.
Shoppach, a free agent at the time, ultimately signed with the Boston Red Sox for one year, $1.135 million. The Mets elected to use Mike Nickeas and Rob Johnson to back up Thole this season.
Nickeas gave the Mets 114 plate appearances with an O.P.S. of .469. Johnson added 58 plate appearances with an O.P.S. of .587. Shoppach, with 158 plate appearances for the Red Sox, posted an O.P.S. of .798.
Against lefties only, the difference is even starker. Shoppach is at .813 against them in 2012, .894 in his career. Nickeas is a .483 O.P.S. hitter in his career against lefties; Johnson is at .586.
The difference wouldn't have won the pennant for the Mets—given Alderson's financial constraints, that was all but impossible—but the difference was probably worth a couple of wins to the Mets, perhaps more, since there's no way Thole gets even 12 starts against lefties had an alternative like Shoppach been around.
The plan, according to Terry Collins, is to start Shoppach against lefties for the remainder of the season. The longer-range plan amounts to giving Shoppach a tryout, familiarizing him with the team and pitchers, with an eye on extending the arrangement into 2013.
In the abstract, the move is a pure win. But with the team's payroll anything but clear heading into the winter, and a bullpen and an outfield that need upgrading, the Mets may simply be trading one fix for another.
The result would be treading water and solving nothing, just like last winter.