Mets don't tender contracts to Paulino, Baxter

Mets don't tender contracts to Paulino, Baxter

Mets don't tender contracts to Paulino, Baxter
NEW YORK -- Ronny Paulino's rocky tenure in New York has come to an end. The Mets opted not to tender Paulino a contract prior to Monday's deadline, making the catcher a free agent for the second time in two years.

The team did offer arbitration to starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey, outfielder Andres Torres and relievers Ramon Ramirez and Manny Acosta, and non-tendered outfielder Mike Baxter.

After the Marlins non-tendered Paulino under similar circumstances last December, he hooked on with the Mets at the Winter Meetings for $1.3 million. But the catcher reported late to Spring Training due to visa issues, sat out the season's first eight games to satisfy an outstanding PED suspension and missed another two weeks due to a blood disorder and strained oblique. When Paulino finally did play, he struggled, hitting .193 with one home run from July 4 through season's end.

A perceived lack of work ethic also grated on the team, according to one Mets official, and Paulino finished the season with a .268 average and two home runs. Acquired to hit left-handed pitching, Paulino slugged just .389 against lefties, nearly 100 points off his career average.

In non-tendering Paulino, the Mets shed his $1.3 million salary (plus a small potential raise through arbitration), allowing them perhaps to expand their budget for pitching and bench upgrades. Without Paulino, the team will almost certainly proceed with Josh Thole and defensive expert Mike Nickeas as its Opening Day catchers; given this year's thin catching market, it is unlikely that the Mets would cut Paulino, then turn around and sign another free agent for similar money.

Though there are concerns over the offensive potential of Nickeas, who hit .189 in the Majors after batting .214 in 60 games with Triple-A Buffalo, the team is enamored with the rookie's defense and game-calling abilities. In a small sample last season, Nickeas' 3.01 catcher's ERA ranked first on the team.

From an administrative perspective, non-tendering Paulino and Baxter also freed up much-needed 40-man roster space. The Mets still needed to vacate two spots in order to add relievers Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco, whom the team unofficially acquired last week.

It was almost certainly due to roster constraints that the team chose to non-tender Baxter, a Whitestone, Queens, native who was not yet eligible for arbitration. The Mets made a similar move last year with outfielder Chris Carter, non-tendering him simply for roster space.

The Mets eliminated their most vexing non-tender decision last week when they traded center fielder Angel Pagan to the Giants for Torres and Ramirez. Though both players are also arbitration-eligible, the Mets tendered them contracts and expect both to play major roles next season. In terms of salary, the trade should amount to roughly a wash.

In addition, the Mets also offered arbitration to Acosta, whose 3.45 ERA in 44 appearances last season earned him regular ninth-inning opportunities in late September.

The only other eligible player on New York's roster was Pelfrey, once a fringe non-tender candidate himself. But the Mets value the right-hander's ability to deliver 200 innings per season, leading them to tender him a contract. A more difficult decision may come after next season, when Pelfrey will be arbitration-eligible for the third and final time.

Monday's deadline was for teams to offer arbitration to players with between three (or in some cases, two) and five years' service time. Through the arbitration process, teams and players will exchange salary figures later this offseason and either agree on new contracts independently, or await for binding rulings from an arbiter.

In addition to general manager Sandy Alderson's decision on Paulino, this year's deadline may ultimately prove intriguing to the Mets for another reason. Much as he did last December, Alderson could look to pluck discarded talent from the waiver wire as he looks to fill out his starting rotation and bench for next season. Notable non-tenders from Monday's deadline include D-backs starter Joe Saunders and Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs.

"We want to leave open some roster decisions until ... the non-tender group comes out and other things develop over the course of this month and January," Alderson said last week at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. "There will be lots of opportunities between now and then, and we don't want to foreclose ourselves completely from looking at those."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.