Mets, Molina and Matthews

CHRIS PUMMER: The Mets missed out on a move that made so much sense when Bengie Molina rejected them to return to the Giants.

The aging catcher would have hardly been an impact signing for the Mets, but he still would have been a solid upgrade on the two-headed suckfest that is Omir Santos and Henry Blanco.

The strictest dollar valuation of what Molina brings over Santos and Blanco might say it wouldn’t have been worth a 2-year, $10-million deal.

That, however, doesn’t capture the fact that Molina was probably the only starting-caliber catcher available to the Mets. That the one-win margin could have been even more critical in 2010 should the team’s superstars be healthy enough to do battle with the Phillies, Braves and Marlins in the NL East. And that for a big-market team like the Mets, overpaying by the price of a few million over less than three years for a very clear upgrade is a luxury they should be able to afford.

A contract in that neighborhood to Molina also should never hold the Mets back from making another upgrade at catcher should one present itself.  Just like Luis Castillo’s bad contract shouldn’t be keeping them from Orlando Hudson right now. Though bringing that up is only bogging down the hypothetical with too many details. This is about what the Mets should do, not what they’re low-wattage brain trust might do.

It seems even more odd that the Mets wouldn’t pony up for Molina — the rare catcher who has been among the top dozen hitters at the position each of the last four years — when they did eat a few million of Gary Matthews Jr.’s contract from the Angels.

In isolation the Matthews move isn’t awful. Maybe they could be getting the same skills for a little less from a Jeremy Reed or some other player. But you’d probably have to squint to see the margin of difference between what could be expected of Matthews and Coco Crisp this year, provided Matthews halts his defensive free fall with some regular playing time early in the season. And Crisp landed a starting job and a $5 million salary.

Matthews will be a decent fourth/fifth outfielder, with the Mets overpaying a little for the luxury of having a guy that’s had at least one really terrific season in his career.

But if you’re going to pay for caviar on the bench, why throw bologna behind the plate?

HOWARD MEGDAL: Chris Pummer, you live in a Bobby Kennedy Mets World, where you ask why not, rather than the reality-based Mets world, where I ask how to minimize paralyzing errors. In that world, Bengie Molina was a mistake.

We value him the same way. But when you say that the Mets shouldn’t let Molina’s contract stop them from upgrading at catcher, then point out the Luis Castillo conundrum, you get at the heart of the problem.

Molina is a good bet, given his age, physical condition and position, to collapse. And short of a literal collapse, the Mets would ride that contract until it ran out.

As for Matthews, let me combine him with Alex Cora. Neither one of these two players is likely to hit much at all, and while your hope that Matthews’s defense stabilizes, it has done nothing but trend downward for three years. Cora is 34, Matthews 35. To expect a rebound season, rather than more decline, seems optimistic in the extreme.

Together, they will make $4.5 million-for one year of Cora, two years of Matthews. For $4.5 million, the Mets could have had Adam LaRoche play first, Gregg Zaun AND Miguel Olivo at catcher, Orlando Hudson at second base in all likelihood. For that money plus the $5.5 million they didn’t spend on Molina, they could have afforded Ben Sheets and then some. If they can still afford sheets, that money plus Sheets gets them John Lackey.

It’s real money. The Mets have never heard of a sunk cost. They need players like Molina to sign elsewhere, to save themselves from errors they don’t allow the concept of “moving on” to ever correct.

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