By MIKE FITZPATRICK, AP Baseball Writer
November 15, 2007
NEW YORK (AP) -- The Mets were close to filling their big hole at catcher Thursday night, nearing a contract with free agent Yorvit Torrealba after completing a two-year deal for backup Ramon Castro.
The moves would leave Paul Lo Duca, New York's starting backstop the past two seasons, looking for a job elsewhere.
Torrealba has never been known for his bat, but he was a steady defensive presence for the NL champion Colorado Rockies this season. He and the Mets were closing in on a $14.4 million, three-year contract, according to a person familiar with the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been finalized.
The Mets retained Castro to be their backup again, though now he could get more playing time than he did behind Lo Duca. Castro passed his physical Thursday after agreeing to a $4.6 million, two-year contract negotiated by agents Sam and Seth Levinson.
The 29-year-old Torrealba batted .255 with eight homers and 47 RBIs in 113 games for the Rockies this season. He was roundly praised for a deft touch in expertly handling Colorado's young pitchers.
"We didn't see him a lot last year. Obviously, he was in the World Series and we got a chance to see him a little bit. I like the way he receives the ball," Mets manager Willie Randolph said Thursday night at third baseman David Wright's charity gala.
"There are not a lot of catchers that really throw really above average in the market, so everyone was kind of in the same boat, basically," he added. "It just depends on what you're looking for and what you want for your team. Not too many Johnny Benches, that's for sure."
If the sides agree on terms, Torrealba would have to pass a physical for the deal to be completed. After that, an announcement by the Mets could come as early as this weekend.
Castro filed for free agency after hitting .285 with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs in 144 at-bats during an injury-shortened season. He has spent the past three years with the Mets, serving as the primary backup to Mike Piazza in 2005 and then Lo Duca the past two years.
The 35-year-old Lo Duca, a four-time NL All-Star from 2003-06, also is a free agent. A fiery voice in the clubhouse who provided leadership in New York, he hit .272 with nine homers and 54 RBIs in 119 games this year for the Mets, who collapsed in September and missed the playoffs.
"I'm still not over it. It's been tough," Randolph said. "It's going to take a while for me."
The manager said he thought Lo Duca was looking for a three- or four-year deal.
"Every year, things change," Randolph said. "This year, yes, I thought he brought a lot to this year, but that doesn't mean that you hold onto a guy because of that. Hopefully, you bring other guys in that maybe can pick up that slack. But each year is totally different."
This was the first time in Torrealba's seven-year major league career that he played more than 76 games. He is a .251 career hitter with 30 homers and 173 RBIs in 440 games.
Torrealba got some clutch hits for the Rockies, batting .256 with a home run and eight RBIs during the postseason. He was much more productive all year at hitter-friendly Coors Field, batting .296 with six homers and 34 RBIs at home but only .212 with two home runs and 13 RBIs on the road.
The 31-year-old Castro spent his first six major league seasons with the Florida Marlins. He is a .234 career hitter with 41 homers and 137 RBIs in 398 games. He set a career high for home runs this season.
Castro gets a $250,000 signing bonus, a $1.85 million salary next year and $2.5 million in 2009.
He would earn an extra $125,000 each for 65 and 70 games started at catcher in either season. He also could earn $250,000 bonuses for starting 80, 90, 100, 110, 120, 125 and 130 games behind the plate each year.
An announcement from the Mets on Castro's deal was expected soon.