12/01/2009 3:52 PM ET
Chaos Theory
Mets add Coste, Cora with offseason picture still murky
By Ted Berg / SNY.tv
This is what Chris Coste looks like. (AP)

Look: I've got no particular beef with the Mets' acquisition of Chris Coste.

Coste had a terrific rookie campaign as the Phillies' backup catcher in 2006, then proved to be at least an adequate offensive second-string backstop in 2007 and 2008.

Plus, teams need catchers, and the Mets always seem to appreciate having experienced guys in camp to work with young arms. I get that.

What's a bit baffling about the deal -- the terms of which have not yet been reported -- is that Coste told his hometown paper, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, that the Mets guaranteed him a spot on their 40-man roster and were, shockingly, the only team that did so.

Why?

In a vacuum, it doesn't matter. The Mets have space on their 40-man roster, plus it currently contains such luminaries as Jack Egbert, Arturo Lopez and Andy Green, so they could probably free up more space for Rule 5 draftees or free agents if need be.

But while the article out of Fargo is a bit vague, a guaranteed spot on the 40-man roster makes it sound a lot like the Mets signed Coste to a Major League deal. That means guaranteed money, too, like the $600,000 the Mets guaranteed to Cory Sullivan before last season.

I'm speculating, of course. The article suggests Coste was offered more money elsewhere, so until we find out more, there's a lot of uncertainty here.

Still, it doesn't seem likely any player coming off a four-year Major League tenure would sign a Minor League deal with some sort of roster clause so early in the offseason, so it's reasonable to speculate that the Mets have indeed promised away another small fraction of the 2010 budget.

A tiny piece of the pie, to be sure. But a piece regardless, and a guaranteed piece.

I don't get it, just like I don't get signing Alex Cora for $2 million and throwing on a vesting option, as if the $2 million alone wasn't enough to lock down Alex Cora.

I'm not bothered because these deals happened before the team acquired anyone more notable; I recognize that the Mets can fill in holes before they go big-game hunting, as Brian Cashman might say.

But why lock up Coste and Cora just a couple of weeks before the full roster of non-tendered free agents is clear?

Who can say? Maybe it's the Chaos Theory of roster construction again; maybe Minaya is trying to mess with Scott Boras' head for a potential showdown over Matt Holliday.

"Look at all the random and perplexing moves I've made! Better ink this deal right now or I could very well take it off the table and give the money to Willie McGee. Dare me to! Just dare me to!"

Coste, four years ago, was exactly the type of guy I often advocate for. He was never a heralded prospect and started his career with five years of independent-league ball before spending three years in the Indians system, one with the Red Sox and one with the Brewers. The Phillies signed him as a Minor League free agent before the 2005 season, then finally gave him a shot in 2006.

At that point, he was a 33-year-old lifetime Minor Leaguer whom three teams had let go. Still, he had a history of decent offensive production in Triple-A and appeared to be the type of player who could benefit a Major League team, which he promptly did.

As he's aged, his numbers have declined, as one would expect with a player in his late 30s. Last year, the Phillies waived him in July, opting instead to keep Paul Bako on as their backup catcher, ostensibly for his defensive skills.

So now that he's 37, the Mets are the one club willing to give him a guaranteed 40-man roster spot.

Maybe he'll be worth it. His only Major League stretch of downright poor offensive play was his most recent one, and Driveline Mechanics rated him an above-average defensive catcher last season, even if the Phillies preferred Bako (who is also now a free agent).

And during the time it took me to write this column I learned that the Phillies signed Brian Schneider to a two-year deal, so maybe Minaya knows something about the market for backup catchers that I do not.

I've got no other reasonable explanation.

Maybe there's a method to what appears to be madness. Maybe Coste, who played parts of three seasons in Buffalo while in the Indians system, is enough of a hero there to invigorate a fanbase the Mets' promised to appease earlier this year.

But can Coste provide more to the Mets' organization than any number of guys who wouldn't require a roster spot or a guaranteed contract? I doubt it.

What neither Coste nor Cora will provide is upside. Upside is the chance a player can actually provide more to his team than he's being paid to provide. Upside is something the Mets should be searching for among the potential Rule 5 Draft picks and non-tendered free agents. Upside is something worth committing money to when a team is operating with a finite budget.

And yeah, I recognize that I'm fretting over the most worthless type of minutiae. I get it. Neither Coste nor Cora singlehandedly prevents the Mets from signing better players, or better catchers, or better utility infielders. Like I said, in a vacuum, it's meaningless.

In a vacuum.

Where have I been? If you've been wondering why I haven't written a column in a couple of months, you probably haven't visited my new blog, TedQuarters, yet. Please do so at your earliest convenience, and bookmark it, and tell all your loved ones.

Ted Berg is the senior editorial producer for SNY.tv. He can be reached at tberg@sny.tv or via Twitter at www.twitter.com/OgTedBerg.
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