PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Rod Barajas figured to be atop the Mets' depth chart at the catching position when he arrived Wednesday at Tradition Field. It was one of the reasons why Barajas, a free agent, picked the Mets in the first place. With essentially five backups already on the roster for spring training, they still needed a catcher like Barajas, an 11-year veteran who played 125 games for the Blue Jays last season.
But Jerry Manuel, despite the obvious void, was not in the mood Wednesday to award the starter's job to the guy who just walked in the door. Rather than simply name Barajas, who signed a one-year contract worth about $1 million, and designate Henry Blanco as his backup, the manager preferred to keep the position open for the time being.
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"I still don't know," Manuel said. "I have to continue to try to see that also as competition in the camp. I'm not going to anoint that particular spot at this point. I'm going to wait on that."
When asked about the physical limitations on the 38-year-old Blanco, who is likely to catch only a couple of days a week - and possibly be Johan Santana's personal backstop - Manuel made sure to include the others in the mix.
"There's not a limit on what Josh Thole can do," Manuel said. "There's not a limit on what Omir Santos can do - and Chris Coste. It will be interesting. In my years I don't recollect having that type of experience in camp. Usually that position has already been separated for the most part."
The only catcherr Manuel left out was Shawn Riggans, who was waived by the Rays last month, and he really isn't part of the major-league equation anyway. As far as "separation," the Mets seem to have that with Barajas, who has the experience and ability that is only rivaled by Blanco - and Barajas, 34, is four years younger.
Barajas, considered a solid defensive catcher, threw out 22 runners attempting to steal last season, which ranked third in the American League. During the last two years, helped by having Roy Halladay on Toronto's staff, Barajas had a catcher's ERA of 3.81, which was fourth in the majors among catchers with 200 or more starts in that span. Beyond the opportunity to win a job with the Mets, Barajas saw the chance to make the playoffs.
"I think this is a team that last year, on paper, they were just as good as anyone in the National League," Barajas said. "Unfortunately when you go through the injuries and lose the players that they lost, it's going to be tough to win. The way I look at it is that just about everybody is back here again, everybody's healthy, so I feel like this was a good chance to get on a team where I could play quite a bit and also win."
From an organizational standpoint, Manuel wants to keep the others in the mix.
Thanks to a buyer's market, Barajas slipped to the Mets at a bargain rate. "I went into this offseason feeling pretty good about myself," said Barajas, who hit 19 home runs with 71 RBIs for Toronto. "After the season ended, I thought I'd be in pretty good shape, so it was a big surprise. It was disappointing, but you just have to put that behind you, have a good year and go back out there again and try to find that good opportunity."