By Mike Steffanos
I loved Paul Lo Duca's fire and passion, but strictly from a baseball business perspective I could understand the Mets electing to go in another direction for their catcher. But now multiple news outlets are reporting the Mets are close to a deal with the Rockies' Yorvit Torrealba. I have to admit that I find it a puzzling move. A guy that played in Colorado last season, batted .255 and slugged .376 certainly isn't going to bring anything special to the table offensively. Worse than that, his road line of .212/.292/.326 suggests that what little respectability his offensive numbers had was primarily due to Coors Field.
Defensively, although he has a great arm, he threw out less than 20% of potential base stealers last season. (In fairness, I should point out his career number is 32%) He always looked to me more like one of those career backup catchers than a budding star.
Estimates of the value of the proposed deal seem to be 2-3 years for about $5 million per year. While that's hardly exorbitant given the current financial climate in MLB, that's still an investment. If Torrealba struggles at the plate at anything close to his road numbers from last year, he would not be a viable starting catcher here.
The "genius" tag seems to have evaporated on Omar Minaya, and that's fine. I never thought he was a genius, anyway, but I saw the logic in his moves. This one is a little harder, because it seems to me that a GM with a reputation for thinking outside the box might find a catcher out there who is undervalued who could produce offense equal or greater than what Torrealba -- overvalued on the basis of a decent run through the NL playoffs -- is likely to put up.
Now maybe Minaya and his baseball people see something in Torrealba that the rest of us don't, and this time next year we are talking about what a great signing this was. I doubt it, though. Torrealba, who will turn 30 next July, most likely is what he is at this point in his career. If he comes to New York for $5 million per year and really struggles, not only is this signing going to look bad but it's going to shine a harsh spotlight back on last winter's terrible decision not to protect top catching prospect Jesus Flores while keeping multiple pitchers on the major league roster who are nothing but an unpleasant memory at this point. If the Mets still had Flores and allowed him to split the catching duties with Ramon Castro next season, I'd be willing to bet his production would equal or top what Torrealba might provide.
I think by last winter I was comfortable with Omar Minaya as GM, and that's not easy for a 40-something Mets fan who has witnessed one front office folly after another over the passing decades. I'm less comfortable now, and that really has little to do with the seemingly bad off-season decisions from last year. Anyone is going to make mistakes, but electing to sign a catcher like Torrealba smacks of the worst kind of playing it safe. Unlike many Mets fans, I'm not particularly high on the idea of making Ramon Castro a starting catcher, simply because I don't feel he can stay healthy while catching full-time. Still, there is no reason why he couldn't catch a lot of games if you chose to deal for a young catcher (with the upside that Torrealba so clearly seems to lack) and wanted to work him in slowly. Making bad deals like last winter's failed trades cause a GM to lose approval from the fan base, but to my mind choosing to overpay for mediocrity is at least as troubling, if not more so.
Hey, I hope if this Torrealba signing does go down that he excels here and I am proven wrong. I'll be the first to cheerfully poke some fun at myself if that happens. But I don't see Yorvit Torrealba as an answer for a team that could probably use a little more power from their catcher next year. To me, this is a real head scratcher.