The Mets Traded for Kelly Shoppach. Sure. Now What?

Patrick Flood says almost everything about why the Mets traded for C Kelly Shoppach from the Red Sox:

Because he’s a catcher and has hit .270/.364/.530 against left-handed pitching during his career.

 

Ted Berg uses more words, and points out that the timing is odd.

Shoppach is eligible for free agency after the season, so unless the Mets believe he’ll accept arbitration, he doesn’t factor in their plans for 2013. And though he makes the team ever-so-slightly better for the next couple of months, he’s hardly enough to catapult them back into the Wild Card race from nine games out.

 

Shoppach is clearly an upgrade on any of the right-handed hitting catchers in the organization. But Ted is right to ask “why now?”

I have two potential answers:

1. this is an extended tryout period for Shoppach to determine if the Mets are interested in retaining him for next year. Terry Collins suggested this was likely.

2. The Mets hope to trade him further up the food chain in the National League in the next month.

How likely is #2?

The Mets’ situation with Shoppach is directly analogous to that of Scott Hairston. Both are useful bench or platoon players who, given their trouble hitting right-handed pitching are not everyday answers. Both are free agents at the end of the year, and by definition part of the future. If the Mets view both players as part of the answer in 2013 and beyond, they can and should try to lock them up rather cheaply. Otherwise the team should be interested in trading both players.

 

Here’s how this works. Waiver claim priority is in reverse order by record, separated by league. So, all of the American League passed on Shoppach when he was put on waivers, as did all of the National League teams with worse records than the Mets (Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Miami, San Diego, Chicago, Colorado and Houston).

 

Who’s Interested?
Could the Mets flip Shoppach to a National League team in contention for the playoffs (Washington, Cincinnati, LA, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Louis or Arizona)?

Lets look at those teams’ catcher production by OPS.

SF – .861
St. L – .817
AZ – .809
ATL – .779
LA – .771
PIT – .726
CIN – .695
WAS – .626

Three of the four teams at the top of the list have stars behind the dish. You’ve heard of the work of Buster Posey, Yadier Molina and Brian McCann. Miguel Montero is a borderline star for Arizona.

Even so, Arizona would be a perfect fit. The Snakes have picked up a very nice season from Miguel Montero (.283/.394/.466) while Henry Blanco, who’s now 40, has hit about as much as you would expect (.188/.224/.281). Wil Nieves, the current backup, is a career .227/.273/.300 batter in 879 MLB plate appearances. Montero could use a lefty-masher as a platoon-partner. He’s hitting but .223/.322/.388 against lefties in 118 PA despite a .309/.423/.500 assault on righties. Arizona is six games back in the wild card chase, and 5.5 in the division, so they had better start winning in a hurry to catch the Giants and Dodgers in front of them.

Cincinnati has Ryan Hannigan, and he has beaten up lefties at a .346/.443/.423 rate in 62 PA this year. At 24, Devin Mesoraco has not hit much, but he’s supposed to be the catcher of the future in Cincy.

The Washington catching situation is a mess, following Wilson Ramos’ knee surgery, which has sidelined him for the year. Former Mets farmhand Jesus Flores has hit .219/.253/.314 in 71 games at age 27. Ramos did hit .265/.354/.398 when he was around. The Nationals addressed this shortcoming by adding Kurt Suzki, who’s now 28, from the A’s. They made their move.

In Pittsburgh, 27-year old Michael McHenry has been really good (.283/.360/.566 – 53 games) while Rod Barajas has stunk (.194/.268/.331). In 37 PA vs. lefties this year, McHenry has .367/.459/.767 while for his career, he’s a more modest, but still useful .250/.352/.458 in 90 MLB Pa.

Behind the plate in LA, AJ Ellis has had a very nice season (.279/.392/.431 in 91 games) while backup Matt Treanor (.186/.273/.314) at least has a wife who won Olympic Gold. Ellis does not have major platoon splits.

The list of contending National League teams who could reasonably use Shoppach’s services is actually surprisingly small.

So, maybe the Mets can ship Shoppach to Arizona for Justin Upton. Ok, that’s not happening. Maybe for a live arm instead?

Or you know, the Mets could offer Shoppach arbitration coming off a year when he signed a one-year $1.35 million contract with the Red Sox. I doubt he’d accept, because at over six years of service time, having made just under $11 million in his six years in the big leagues, he’d be looking for at least a two-year deal.  He stayed on a one-year deal this time because he was coming off a season when he had a .607 OPS with Tampa Bay in 2011. At .798 and counting in 2012, he’ll be looking for a little more security this time around.