With the 2011 season over, the old saying, “There’s always next season,” instantly becomes all Mets fan’s credo. But before we can think about riding the 7-train out to Flushing again, there is a whole off-season to project and pontificate about. Considering the amount of holes the Mets will have, this coming off-season holds a lot of importance.
In this new on-going series, Rising Apple will analyze potential off-season targets for the New York Mets. Today’s target at-hand is soon to be free agent catcher Kelly Shoppach.
Sure, the true gems of free agency will most certainly be Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson, and Heath Bell–but just like teams needs a power-hitting first baseman, ace starting pitcher, and/or shutdown closer, teams also need a competent backup catcher. Insert Kelly Shoppach.
Shoppach was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the second round of the 2001 draft. The catcher was rightfully ranked the #78 prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2004, as the 24 year-old swatted 22 homeruns during that season. Shoppach was even mightier with the stick in 2005, owning a .253/.352/.507 line with 26 homeruns, 75 RBI, and 60 runs in 432 plate appearances. The unique power-hitting squatter earned a promotion in 2005, collecting 16 plate appearances with the Red Sox.
But the Red Sox weren’t the only team excited about Shoppach’s pop. The catcher was dealt along with Andy Marte, Guillermo Mota, and Randy Newsom in 2006 to the Cleveland Indians for Coco Crisp, Josh Bard, and David Riske. Shoppach played understudy to Victor Martinez for two seasons, but in 2008, when Martinez ruptured his patellar tendon, the former Red Sox prospect got his first chance to start in the bigs. And Shoppach did not disappoint. The slugger posted a magnificent .261/.348/.517 line with 21 homeruns, 55 RBI, and 67 runs in 403 plate appearances. In fact, the catcher’s .256 ISO ranked within the top fifteen in the entire Major Leagues. Considering the giant void Martinez’s absence created, Shoppach’s 3.3 fWAR was a more than welcome addition.
Unfortunately, Shoppach could not repeat his groundbreaking 2008 season in 2009. The catcher slumped to a .214/.335/.399 line with 12 homeruns, 40 RBI, and 33 runs in 327 plate appearances. With stud-prospect Carlos Santana on the horizon, the Indians dealt Shoppach during the off-season to the Tampa Bay Rays. Despite the down season, the Rays signed Shoppach to a two-year deal (with an option for a third) worth $5.55 million. At first, the contract seemed to be a prudent decision, as Shoppach was just one year removed from a 3.3 fWAR season. However, Shoppach missed most of April and May due to injury, and lost his job to John Jaso, who played well in the starter’s absence. Shoppach’s injury-plagued 2010 resulted in a career-worst .196/.308/.342 line with 5 homeruns, 17 RBI, and 17 runs in 187 plate appearances.
In 2011, Shoppach had a more clean bill of health, but didn’t have a full-time starting gig. Sharing time with Jaso, Shoppach did his best to illicit his past-power (11 homeruns in 253 plate appearances), but unlike season’s past, he became a much better defensive catcher. Shoppach threw runners out at a 40.9% clip, which ranked third best in the Majors among catchers with at least 200 innings (he played about 625). In addition, the former-starter only had one pass-ball the entire season. While his .176/.268/.339 seasonal line sticks out like a sore thumb, his defensive improvements made him one of the more valuable backup catchers in baseball during 2011.
In regards to the Mets, Kelly Shoppach would be a big upgrade over incumbent backup, Ronny Paulino, and prudent free agent signing (assuming the Rays decline his $3.2 million team option). As bad as Shoppach’s .176/.268/.339 line in 2011 seemed, his terribly unlucky .212 BABIP might have something to do with it. In addition, having someone like Shoppach, who has plenty of starting experience, would be a nice piece of insurance in the event Josh Thole regresses even further in 2012. Given his undeniable pop, great defense, and un-geezer age (will be 32 in late-April), Kelly Shoppach might very well be a potential off-season target for the New York Mets.
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