As the countdown towards Spring Training continues, it is becoming more and more likely that the Mets are going with Omir Santos as their #1 catcher, with Henry Blanco and Chris Coste vying for the backup spot.
The Mets spent their winter signing Coste and Blanco and let other catchers (most notably Bengie Molina) sign with other teams. As a result, Santos will now be expected to handle the pitching staff of Johan Santana and The Four Rainouts as well as performing a few Omir-acles of his own at the plate.
Can Santos be counted on to repeat his unexpected 2009 performance this year now that more is being asked of him? Let’s review a few things from his past to see what we can expect in the future.
In 2008, Omir Santos was called up to the major leagues by the Baltimore Orioles for his first cup of coffee in the big show after being a career minor leaguer since 2001. His stay in Baltimore was short-lived as he became a Met in 2009. It was in New York that Santos got his huge break when Brian Schneider got injured, forcing the Mets to call him up for what was supposed to be a short stay.
However, something happened on the way to Citi Field. On a team full of fragile players and underachievers, Omir blossomed into a pretty decent (and clutch) hitter.
Perhaps the most dramatic home run of the 95 hit by the Mets in 2009 came off the bat of Omir Santos. On May 23, he hit a two-out, two-run HR in the ninth inning off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. The umpires originally claimed that the ball had not left Fenway Park, bouncing off the top of the Green Monster and staying in the field of play. That left Santos on second base and Gary Sheffield on third. However, upon viewing the replay, the call was properly reversed and Santos was credited with a home run.
Because of Santos’ unexpected clutch hitting, the Mets decided to trade Ramon Castro to the Chicago White Sox, allowing Santos to remain on the major league roster. His final numbers for the 2009 season included a .260 batting average, 7 HR and 40 RBI in only 291 at-bats. He also added 14 doubles.
Now the question the Mets must ask themselves is whether or not those numbers will translate into a better season in 2010 if Santos gets the 400 at-bats usually reserved for a #1 catcher? Unfortunately, looking at his minor league stats, the answer might be no.
In 2,229 career at-bats for various minor league teams, Santos could only manage a .258 average, with 32 HR and 260 RBI. He hit .260 for the Mets after not being able to do that against MINOR LEAGUE PITCHING in eight-plus years.
Can the Mets expect more Omir-acles from Santos in 2010? Probably not. He won’t be facing Jonathan Papelbon this season and due to the lack of quality catching depth on the team, it’s unlikely he’ll get sent back to the minors. If Santos repeats his 7 HR, 40 RBI performance in 400 at-bats, that should be considered a success for him. But I’m not counting on it.
The Mets would be better off signing a more experienced catcher who could handle a pitching staff that can be, shall we say, a little erratic at times. (see Maine, J. and Perez, O.) Given 400 at-bats, any catcher can hit seven home runs and drive in 40 runs. But with the problems the Mets could have with their starting pitchers, it may be more important to go with a catcher who can help the Mets more with his handling of the pitchers than with his handling of the bat. If the Mets give that much playing time to Omir Santos, they’d better hope he can handle the Four Rainouts portion of Johan Santana and The Four Rainouts. If he can’t, the band might not get another gig at Citi Field.