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Who Should Backup Josh Thole?



By Mike Silva ~ November 29th, 2011. Filed under: New York Mets.

It came as no surprise that Andy Martino of the Daily News reported the Mets unhappiness with catcher Ronny Paulino. According to Martino, “the team did not view him as a diligent worker, adequate defensive catcher, or offensive force off the bench.” He also shared a story where Paulino annoyed Terry Collins with a near act of insubordination. I was told that Paulino was so bad behind the plate that he didn’t know the indicator sign as late as September. Imagine it’s the seventh inning with runners on, and a pitcher needs to teach their catcher the signs; unacceptable. Paulino is arbitration eligible, but it’s safe to say there is a good chance he will be non-tendered. Who should be his replacement?

Personally, I like Mike Nickeas. I had a chance to interview him for 1240 AM WGBB back in September. Nickeas is the antithesis of Paulino as he has been called a “student of the game” by Terry Collins. Chris Carlin of SNY did a feature on him this past September and talked about how “he is always preparing and watching video.” The staff apparently liked him too, as opponents had a .670 OPS with him behind the plate and the pitchers a tidy 2.94 ERA. That’s about 1.5 runs better than Thole or Paulino.

His offense is suspect (.190 BA in 69 big league at-bats), but his career minor league OPS of .671 is actually higher than what Paulino produced last season. Although he hit only .214 in Buffalo, he hit .240 against LHP. In the end, Nickeas is probably a decent third catcher for organizational depth, which means Sandy Alderson will probably be wise to bring in a veteran right-hand hitting backstop that can complement Josh Thole on both sides of the ball.

Some of the free agent names mentioned as possibilities by Martino were Ramon Hernandez, Kelly Shoppach, Jason Varitek, and Ivan Rodriguez. Personally, I am intrigued by Shoppach who has struggled offensively the past two seasons in Tampa, but isn’t too far removed from a 21 home run campaign in 2008.

Shoppach is actually the perfect complement to Thole. He’s right-handed and has a career OPS of .909 against left-handed pitching. Last year, despite his overall struggles, he had a respectable .788 OPS against lefties with 7 HRs in 125 plate appearances. The most exciting part about Shoppach’s game is his defense, which is where I believe a catcher earns his stripes. For his career he’s thrown out 28% of base runners, with a whopping 41% in 2011. Joe Maddon played Shoppach quite a bit down the stretch last season, including the playoffs, and was a big fan of his defense and game calling.

I don’t think Shoppach will come cheap. He earned $3.2 million dollars last year, which is $2 million more than what Paulino cost. Even with a pay cut he will probably earn more than Paulino. Since its unlikely they will invest in Jose Reyes or another superstar, it’s important to spend on players that can do the little things. Shoppach is the kind of player that will help them win ballgames because of defense and game calling – two things that will never show up in the box score or any advanced metric calculation.

***

As I mentioned earlier, I interviewed Mike Nickeas for 1240 AM WGBB.

This isn’t my greatest work, but I figured I would share it with everyone. Unfortunately, a plane interrupted us overhead during the piece, but I think it wasn’t a bad first stab at video.

Say what you want about Nickeas, but he was giving some kids a tour of the dugout and clubhouse right before my piece, and I could tell he genuinely enjoyed it. He gives you a positive vibe in which you could tell he understands what a privilege it is to be in the big leagues. These are the kind of guys that you want to root for.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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3 Responses to Who Should Backup Josh Thole?

  1. Chuck Johnson

    Nickeas is a good guy, I met him when he was in the AFL then said hello a couple of times after while with the Rangers in ST.

    Thole is the starting catcher by default; he stinks and there’s no one better in the organization.

    If the Mets invest three million in Shoppach or another veteran guy like Jason Kendall, they will be the starter and Thole the backup.

  2. Piazza

    I don’t think saying Thole “stinks” is fair. He hit just as well as anyone could have expected after a shaky start, and defense will come.

  3. George

    Out of curiosity, what do you think of free agent catcher Jose Morales? He would be pretty cheap as he is not arbitration eligible until 2013 and is a switch hitter but have concerns about his hitting and health.

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