Last two months could be critical for Josh Thole

Josh Thole has been the Mets’ primary catcher for almost two whole years now.

So, it begs the question: Where does Thole stand in the Mets’ long term plans at catcher moving forward?

Let’s call a spade a spade. Thole is at best an average catcher with no discernible skills that separate himself from the pack either offensively or defensively.

As of August 8, Thole was sporting a mediocre .259/.314/.321 line. His career slash mark (.271/.340/.346) is slightly better than the numbers he is posting this year, but nonetheless it is still hardly awe-inspiring.

Thole is also a feeble 5-33 in his last ten games with just two runs batted in.

By now, we all thought Thole would start to emerge as a reliable contact hitter who could go gap to gap and at least give the Mets a presence in the lineup at catcher. However, Thole has regressed and is seemingly not playing with a lot of confidence out there.

Thole has no pop, is not great behind the plate and lately he is not even hitting for contact.

Granted, his season struggles could be attributed to a concussion he suffered earlier in the season at Philadelphia. In fact, Thole has had some missteps at the plate of late, as he has been timid in covering the plate, which had direct effect on the outcome of a game in San Diego last week.

I for one was hoping for more maturation in Thole’s game this season, especially since Thole, while not old per say, will be 26 in October. The clock is ticking on him.

With that said, Thole has some ground to make up for in the final two months. If he finishes the season staying par for the course, there is every good reason the Mets’ front office should look to the free agent market to upgrade at catcher.

With Thole, Mike Nickeas and Rob Johnson (with no one else in the minors close enough to make an impact in 2013) as the only internal options going forward, the Mets have to address this problem if Thole continues to struggle.

Thole is a decent catcher, but that’s about it. He could work in a platoon. So at the minimum, the Mets should look into acquiring a right-handed catcher with a little bit of pop (say Ramon Hernandez?) in the offseason.

Whether it’s a slump or just confidence, Thole needs to figure it out in the next two months or he could be looking a drastic role reduction come next year.

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14 comments for “Last two months could be critical for Josh Thole

  1. August 9, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Kelly Shoppach will be a free agent again in the offseason. It made sense to grab him last year, when Boston ended up getting him for less than a third of what Alderson paid for Rauch. Shoppach has an .835 OPS versus LHP and is at least average defensively. If Boston doesn’t re-sign him, it would make sense to get him for 2013.

  2. kjs
    August 9, 2012 at 11:49 am

    He’s awful, but the front office is worse. I expect minimal acquisitions during the off season, so I have Thole penciled in to be the main man in 2013.

  3. 7train
    August 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Shoppach hit .214, .196, and .176 the 3 years before 2012 with a combined 3.5 – 1 K/BB rate.

    That’s probably a good reason he was less expensive than Jon Rauch besides you have to pay relievers to come here with this catching situation and defense especially if you only want them on 1 year deals which is important in order to protect prospects from the rule 5 in the Winter.

    The question that needs to be asked is what effect did Fenway have on Shoppach’s resurgence at age 32? How about the Sox lineup?

    Shoppach could be a decent platoon mate for Thole but he could also be a net drag on the lineup if he hits the way he did for the three years prior to 2012.

    Overall the neglect of the catching position over the previous 15 years is just criminal. One top 3 pick spent on this position (2010 Forsyth)and just Flores, Pena and Cordero signed internationally and Flores lost in the rule 5 to Washington because we had no room on the 40 after signing Alou the week before the winter meetings. Incidentally the pick we forfeited for Alou could have been spent on Travis d’Anaurd. Thole himself spent the first 3 years of his career learning first base then was up a year and a half later when Castro was traded. Very poor job of development.

    FWIW I’m pretty sure Thole has some kind of a groin or hamstring issue he’s playing on the last month or so which is effecting his swing, stance and rotation at the plate.

    Not very much out there in FA and catching is really at a premium. Montero and Molina just got locked up. Teams that had a surplus like the Yankees, Reds, Giants and Tigers just traded a catching prospect (Montero, Joseph, Brantly and Grandal) Other teams with a surplus are probably looking for a big piece or their holding, (SD and Toronto) O’Brien (TB) Murphy, Romine, Arcia (NYY) and Swihart (Bos) should be inquired about for the future.

    Catchers have a high bust rate, frequently get moved, are great trade chips and a vital part of a well conceived team which really begs the question of why has this position been neglected for so long in this organization. Anyone out there in FA this year including Shoppach have many more questions than givens and that probably won’t change much going forward.

    I was really counting on Minaya to do much much more in this area internationally and while he did do some good work in Latin America his effort was very poor at this position. We were actually in much better shape behind the plate before he got here and that’s almost incomprehensible.

    • Dan Stack
      August 9, 2012 at 2:09 pm

      Good point re Travis d’Anaurd. Maybe the Mets could make overtures towards the Blue Jays for a possible trade.

      • 7train
        August 10, 2012 at 9:52 pm

        There was some talk that Niese d’Anaurd was discussed in the off season. didn’t hear who broke it off first but that’s apparently the going rate. A young cost controlled LH starting pitcher. That is a very high price to pay and we simply don’t have the goods to spare.

        Washington got Wilson Roasario from the Twins for Matt Capps at the 2010 trade deadline but Capps was marketable as he was only making 3.5 M. K-Rod for example was untradeable with his remaining 2010 6 M, 2011 12 M and that crazy 17M 2012 vesting option.

        Cleveland did great at the deadline in 2008 with Carlos Santana for Casey Blake.

        This year the Marlins got Brantly (AAA) from Detroit for Infante and Sanchez. Philly got Joseph (AA) for Pence. Padres got Grandal and Alonso for Matt Latos. Mariners got Montero for Pineda.

        All of these deals are more the reason we should be spending top draft picks on catchers AND signing the best two OR 3 internationally every year.

        Alderson has done more in this area in two years than Phillips, Duquette and Minaya combined did in 13 with Garcia, Plaweicki and Nido.

        Hopefully that will continue, till then I don’t know that there is a solution except to pick through the scrap heap every year.

    • August 9, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      Average is such a 1970s way of looking at things. In those same three years, here are Shoppach’s OPS versus LHP: .788, .830, 1.045 — since the Mets needed a person to face LHP it was pretty clear to anyone who looked that Shoppach would have been an ideal, low-cost option.

      While there’s no doubt that Shoppach has been helped by Fenway, even his road OPS of .704 this season would be a huge upgrade on what the Mets have received from their backup catchers. And there’s no reason to think that his road OPS numbers would be what he would produce at Citi, as most players perform better at home than on the road.

      Can you give a cite for a player refusing to come to the Mets because of their defense? Or that the Mets had to overpay Rauch to come here because of that? I was turned off by the Rauch deal on its own merits but I’d be even more upset if you provide me a link where Sandy says he had to pay $3.5 when no one else was offering more than $3 million.

      You seem convinced that the Mets would have taken D’Arnaud if they could. There’s no guarantee in either direction that they would have. Just because they could have picked someone doesn’t mean they would have. They could have taken Andrew McCutchen or Jay Bruce in 2005 but they didn’t.

      They could have spent a first-round pick on someone like Jeff Clement or Landon Powell or Kyle Skipworth or Maxwell Sapp or other guys who didn’t pan out. Given the attrition rate, I don’t feel awful about not spending a high pick on a catcher.

      Minaya tried to get Montero but missed. The same year he ended up with Pena who was supposed to hit like Piazza and field like his dad. Hasn’t quite worked out. They overdrafted Plawecki (BA had him as the 67th-best prospect while MLB.com had him at 74) this year. Given the financial constraints in play this year, I have no problem with this and hopefully it works out.

      • 7train
        August 10, 2012 at 4:04 pm

        A big part of a backup catcher is to backup the starter in case of injury. If Thole did go down Shoppach’s 2009-2011 OPS doesn’t look so great in the lineup every day. .652, .422 and .431 and teams rarely swap out catchers in order to get the platoon advantage because there would be no one else to play if the 2nd catcher got injured so Shoppach would wind up hitting RHP’s way more than you would want him to just as he did in Cleveland and Tampa, hence the low batting averages/OPS.

        I do realize that Collins has in fact gambled with swapping out Thole for Nickeas and Johnson but that move does present some risk and while it might be something you do when you don’t have the right pieces and hope it doesn’t come back to bite you I don’t think it’s a situation you go out a sign a guy for.

        I am just guessing here but I’m of the belief that both Shoppach and Ross wanted to go to Boston to resurrect their careers from an offensive standpoint. I read somewhere Ross himself said that a month or so ago but I do not know where I got them from.

        I am also guessing about relievers not having the Mets on their preferred lists for a number of reasons. Relievers need good numbers if their only being offered one year deals or it affects their market value and options the next season. With a stated plan of Thole, Ike, Murphy, Tejada, Wright, Bay, Torres and Duda I’m of the opinion that wouldn’t have been appetizing when considering alternatives.

        New York, Madoff, probable non contention and the general negative aura surrounding the Mets might have contributed to us needing to over pay as well but admittedly just a guess on my part. Alderson wouldn’t have put this in the public domain if it were true as that would just increase the problem in fact you hear very little of what he did try to do that didn’t come about.

        I am not convinced that we would taken d’Anaurd at all, in fact I’m closer to being convinced that we didn’t even know d’Anaurd existed than that we would have selected him. All draft picks come with a certain amount of risk. Catchers do bust as much or more than any other position but they also frequently get moved else where and we had plenty of landing spots if one couldn’t handle the position at the time including 1B, LF and RF. That is even more the reason we should have taken a catcher especially when considering our organizational needs. Pena had just been signed a year ago but Flores was lost in the rule 5 draft 6 months before and Thole was still playing 1B and would continue to for the rest of 2007. If catchers are such a risk that’s a good reason to take one when you get a chance because if Pena doesn’t work out………………..

        Weiters, Mesoroco, Arinciba and d’Anaurd were the 4 top catching prospects in the 2007 draft. Most likely the Mets wouldn’t have wanted to wait on a HS kid and pay a larger signing bonus than a “closer” and cheaper college pick but that doesn’t excuse the fact that we did draft just one catcher in six years under Minaya in the first, second or third round (Forsythe 3rd 2010) and none under Phillips, combined with not doing much internationally (Pena and Cordero) not trading for a catching prospect and actually losing one that we already had is why our catching situation is the way it is.

        It is not enough to say we tried to sign Montero, did sign Pena and it just didn’t work out and leave it at that if you have asperations of someday having a year in and year out World Series contender and it’s not like Minaya wasn’t aware of the farm situation. He had been here from 1999-2001 and on the job for 2 years as GM. He knew the various needs in the Organization so for him to sign Moises Alou before SF had to offer arbitration, thereby not even giving us a chance to keep our best pick doesn’t make sense on any level expect perhaps in stretching the draft budget.

  4. steevy
    August 9, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Thole is eminently replaceable,next year he can platoon as a stopgap.What bothers me most about him is that he can’t get runners in from 3rd with less than 2 out.If he was lights out defensively I could live with his weak bat.He’s not.

  5. steevy
    August 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    BTW an interesting idea for a column would be best minor league seasons by Mets farmhands.Guy who were hits,misses or were traded away and flourished elsewhere.

  6. Name
    August 10, 2012 at 11:49 am

    I don’t remember the exact numbers, but i think thole was hitting above .300 before that concussion. Then when he came back, he went 0 for something that caused his average to dip down a lot. Since then, he’s been scuffling since.
    While Thole isn’t great, there aren’t that many good catcher who are going to be free agents this offseason.
    Gerald Laird-only a fringe part timer(we already have rob johnson)
    Russell Martin-Low Average, Decent power. Doesn’t really fit the Mets mold. Not worth the price
    Jeff Mathis-Can’t hit
    Mike Napoli-Good power, but safe to say 2011 average was a huge fluke. Also not worth the price.
    Dioner Navarro-AAA depth
    Ronny Paulino-Yea. Mets already tried this.
    A.J. Pierzynski-He’s old, but still productive. If at the right price, he could be an option.
    Humberto Quintero-AAA depth
    David Ross-Too old/comfortable in ATL
    Brian Schneider-Nothing more than a backup
    Kelly Shoppach-A name that intrigues a lot. If he were to cost more than 2 mil i say no way.
    Yorvit Torrealba-AAA depth
    Matt Treanor-Too old

    So as you can see, most of the options are too old or aren’t productive. The only name that interests me is A.J. Pierzynski. It looks like he can still hit, and if he doesn’t want to go back to Chicago, i would like to see the Mets make a run at him(if the money is right of course).
    But if they don’t. I think it’s their best interest to still with Thole(who is still very cheap) and just find another RH backup catcher.

  7. Chris F
    August 10, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    He was having a fine season before the concussion. Those are the breaks tho. what irks me is that I wish we had a guy like Varitek that could have come in as back up and help Josh get the the world of the catcher figured out. I dont think innings is enough training to be a great guy behind the plate.

    • Name
      August 11, 2012 at 11:54 am

      Varitek on the 25-man. Hell no. Bring in Varitek as a Coach, i’d be OK with that, but i don’t think he would want to do that.

  8. Metsense
    August 11, 2012 at 12:11 am

    A very fair and accurate assessment of Thole. Thole, when platooned is an average NL catcher. The Mets therefore need a right handed hitting catcher, not too old in case he would have to start because of a Thole injury, and good enough to compete for more than a platoon job. Laird and Shoppach seem to be the only two that may qualify. There just isn’t much out there and and trade chips should be for the bullpen and outfield first. The Mets would have to overpay for Napoli or Martin and that money would be better spent on other needs.

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