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Mets set with Santos behind the plate

Mets set with Santos behind the plate

NEW YORK -- Pitches won't be rolling toward the backstop at Citi Field this year. The Mets will have to field a team with a catcher.

Though, no, the catcher will not be Bengie Molina. The Mets' preferred plan -- signing Molina for one year -- didn't work. So now they are forced to turn inward. Their primary catcher will be Omir Santos, and his understudy will be Henry Blanco. Call it "Plan B."

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Santos was one of the more pleasant surprises the Mets found in the most unpleasant 2009 season. He demonstrated power beyond expectations and earned a place as an on-call understudy late in Spring Training. And when Brian Schneider's knee squawked in mid-April, Santos got the call. As his 28th birthday approached, Santos was promoted to the big leagues for the second time in his career.

What played out wasn't storybook stuff, except for his two-run home run to beat Jonathan Papelbon at Fenway Park on May 23. But it was good reading. Santos proved to be an adequate receiver and an occasional run producer. Throw him a fastball and he knew what to do with it. Throw him something that wrinkled and the results weren't so good. But the '09 Mets weren't going to win the division even if Johnny Bench had been their catcher.

The Mets could look elsewhere for someone to keep the shin guards and chest protector warm until Josh Thole is big league ready in 2011. Rod Barajas and Yorvit Torrealba remain on the shelves of the free-agent market. Chances are the Mets will make no purchase, though.

A person familiar with their thinking said Wednesday the club is unconvinced that either free agent would constitute a significant upgrade over a Santos-Blanco tandem. He said the club is inclined to put its wallet back in its pocket for now and determine whether the Molina money would be more prudently spent in another area -- pitching.

Not that the Mets are necessarily prepared to intensify -- read: offer more money -- their pursuit of free agents such as right-hander Jon Garland, but money would be in greater abundance.

Molina's choice to re-sign with the Giants did undermine the Mets' plan for a more productive batting order. An accomplished run producer, Molina might have batted sixth. Santos is a likely No. 8 hitter. And the anticipated absence of Carlos Beltran in April and perhaps early May diminishes the batting order as well. A perceived offensive shortfall won't necessarily affect the club's pursuit of Carlos Delgado. The Mets' intention was to re-sign Delgado if he demonstrated characteristic power and run production in winter ball and proved he was healthy. Beltran's absence hasn't changed their posture, though the club recognizes a need for left-handed power will exist until Beltran is fit.

A lack of offense can be offset in two ways -- acquire offense or upgrade the starting pitching. Re-signing Delgado, if he is healthy, improves the team on a regular basis. Signing a pitcher has more effect on the day he starts and an indirect effect in the bullpen. But it is one day in five that he has impact.

So, as former Mets general manager Al Harazin liked to say, "It's a conundrum," not one that must be solved today. But the Mets are less than a month from the first day of Spring Training.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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