The non-tender deadline came and went last night, and while the Mets decided to return the services of Manny Acosta and Mike Pelfrey, Ronny Paulino and Mike Baxter were not as fortunate. The pair were non-tendered by the Mets, paving way for their free-agency.
Paulino is all too familiar with the non-tender deadline. After being non-tendered by the Florida Marlins post-2010,, the catcher faced a career-threatening disposition. The right-handed hitter was no longer viewed as a potential starting catcher, and had posted just a .259/.311/.354 line in 344 plate appearances in 2010. In addition, the former Pittsburgh Pirates prospect had also tested positive for performance-enhancing substances–knocking him out for 50 games. Needless to say, the 30 year-old was facing an uphill battle.
Luckily for Paulino, not everyone in baseball was so closed-minded. Sandy Alderson saw value in the righty as a backup to youngster Josh Thole, but also as a potential platoon partner versus left-handed pitching. The thought wasn’t crazy, as Paulino had bashed a .358/.380/.516 line against southpaws in 2010 (and owns a .330/.385/.475 career line to-date). The Mets inked the catcher to a one-year, $1.35 million contract (with various performance bonuses). Considering Paulino would still be under team control at the conclusion of the 2011 season, it seemed like an all-around smart signing.
Paulino made his Mets debut on April 29, missing almost the entire first month due to suspension and a strange blood test abnormality. In his first full month (May), the backup did not disappoint, smacking a .333/.396/.354 line in 53 plate appearances. June was even more prolific for the Santo Domingo-native, posting a .364/.386/.527 line. However, from that point on, Paulino struggled mightily, owning a collective .202/.250/.274 line in 136 plate appearances. On the season, the righty collected a .268/.312/.351 line with 2 homeruns, 19 RBI, and 19 runs.
Ronny Paulino’s 2011 season was more or less a “success”–depending on what you expect out of a backup catcher.
He hit well–as advertised–against left-handed pitching (.289/.363/.389 line), but also posted his highest career contact rate (85.3%), and a superb 73.3% O-Contact% (contact rate for pitches outside the zone), which was 11.5% above his 2010 rate. However, Paulino’s defense was a little suspect. Among catchers with at least 200 innings, Paulino posted the eleventh worst caught-stealing percentage, throwing out just 20.3% of runners. He also had 6 pass balls, which ties him with Yadier Molina–but in 639 less innings than Cardinals’ defensive-wiz.
As for Baxter, the Queens-native was originally drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 4th round of the 2005 draft, but didn’t really hit his groove until 2009. Split between Double and Triple-A, Baxter swatted a mean .317/.394/.469 line with 9 HR, 79 RBI, 76 R, and 14 SB in 574 PA’s. The following season, in 2010, the left-handed hitter dominated pitchers in his first full-season in Triple-A, to the tune of a .301/.382/.517 line with 18 HR, 72 RBI, 89 R, and 22 SB in 552 PAs. Unfortunately, the outfielder tore a ligament in his left thumb right in early-March, which seriously hindered his 2011 season. The 26 year-old rehabbed for most of the season in Single-A, before being placed on waivers in late-July.
Hoping Baxter would become healthy, the Mets selected him from the Padres, and assigned him to Triple-A. The outfielder didn’t do much in Buffalo, hitting a .188/.257/.297 line in 71 PA’s, but he surprisingly got the call in early-August. Unlike his dismal Triple-A showing, the 26 year-old posted a decent .235/.350/.441 line with 1 HR, 4 RBI, and 6 R in 40 PA’s for New York, while playing an extremely solid (albeit, a very small sample size) right (13.8 UZR/150 in 68 innings) and left (56.8 UZR/150 in 5 innings) field.
Unlike Paulino, there is a good chance Baxter returns to the Mets on a minor league contract. With the Mets roster a little thin on outfielders, Baxter could provide the team with some much-needed depth. And if he hits like he did in 2009 and 2010, he might emerge as more than depth too.