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In Kevin Plawecki, Mets have significant trade chip

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Travis d'Arnaud should be the future of the Mets at catcher. Yet, he is not the only young, promising backstop in the organization, as Kevin Plawecki has emerged as one of the best prospects at the position. With such two youngsters with great potential, should the Mets consider trading Plawecki?

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With one of the most promising starting rotations in the majors, backed by minor league talents who can't wait to throw in the big leagues, Mets pitchers have been the subject of trade speculation all winter. While Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, or even Matt Harvey could bring back interesting upgrades, there are other trade possibilities that could help the franchise in the future.

You may have read that there are signs that Travis d'Arnaud will break out this year. Ideally, he will post numbers similar Devin Mesoraco's in 2014—or even better. Meanwhile, Kevin Plawecki—the Mets' fifth-best prospect, according to Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus—happens to be a catcher, too. Plawecki could reach the majors this year in the event of an injury or as an alternative to Anthony Recker. But with the starting job belonging to d'Arnaud, Plawecki seems most likely to get regular playing time at Triple-A Las Vegas. This also means that there is a case for trading him. As a highly ranked prospect who has put up great numbers in the minors at a premium position, Plawecki is probably appealing to several other teams.

Baseball Prospectus described Plawecki as a prospect with a "solid-average regular" potential, thanks to "steady defense" combined with a "contact ability with a mature approach at the plate."  Minor League Ball wrote that Plawecki is a "solid all-around prospect [...] very skilled on defense" and would make for "attractive trade bait."

After hitting .309/.365/.460 between Double- and Triple-A last year, there is indeed reason to think that teams may be interested in him. Now, many could also argue that the Mets should not trade him, or at least not during the 2015 season, because of Travis d'Arnaud's relatively short major league track record and his injury history.

In late September 2014, d'Arnaud suffered from soreness in his right elbow. A few months before that, he had a concussion after being hit by a backswing. In 2013, a foul ball fractured his left foot, and in 2012 a partial TCL tear in his left knee caused him to miss 66 games. Being a catcher is probably one of the most injury-prone and exigent positions in the game, and d'Arnaud's track record does not help his case. Meanwhile, Plawecki has not suffered from any major injury to date. So, you may rightfully say that Sandy Alderson should not trade him before the season starts, and even maybe not at all. After all, having two young quality catchers is a luxury that many teams would envy. However, considering the Mets' needs, there are some interesting ideas that could be explored.

Three teams stand out as potential landing spots for Plawecki: the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals. Among these three teams, one is in a rebuilding process, and two will do their best to play in October this year. All of them could use Plawecki in the future.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins have two of the most exciting prospects in baseball with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Well, after losing at least 92 games in each of the past four seasons, they actually have a lot more exciting prospects than that, which is why the Mets could find some interesting players in Minnesota.

Kurt Suzuki is the incumbent behind the plate in Minnesota, while 25-year-old Josmil Pinto is his backup. Under team control until 2017, Suzuki looks well-settled in the Twin Cities, especially since he never had any major injuries in his career. However, he will be 32 years old this year and protecting your catcher position is not a luxury. For now, they rely on Pinto, who entered the big leagues in 2013 with 83 plate appearances with a .342/.398/.566 line and a 168 wRC+. Unfortunately for him, things didn't go nearly as well in 2014, as he hit .219/.315/.391 with a 101 wRC+ in 197 plate appearances in the big leagues. Thus, Pinto might not be the future of the franchise at this position, and in that case, the Twins could look towards New York and Plawecki.

What could make it happen?

Minnesota has a lot to offer. As it stands, 26-year-old Eduardo Escobar and 24-year-old Danny Santana will compete for the starting shortstop job this spring. Here are their numbers last season with the Twins:

Santana 430 7 70 40 20 0.319 0.353 0.472 0.362 133 3.2
Escobar 465 6 52 37 1 0.275 0.315 0.406 0.317 102 2.3

Santana, being younger, appears to be the better option, but Escobar is also able to play at third base which could provide the Mets some depth at this position if Wright gets injured. The Twins could also consider letting Santana go because they have Jorge Polanco, a 21 year-old middle infield prospect, who should make his debut this year or in 2016 according to Baseball Prospectus. They have depth at the middle infield, yet they don't have any viable option at the catcher position if Pinto does not succeed in the majors.

Chicago White Sox

Chicago's South Side franchise has its starting catcher for now with Tyler Flowers, a 29-year-old righty who had his best season in 2014 with a .241/.297/.396 line and 1.8 fWAR. That's decent, but not great. In fact Flowers gets most of his value through his defense. His inability to get on base comes mainly from his poor strikeout rate, which stands at 34.8 percent for his major league career.

According to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, Flowers will start spring training "atop the depth chart at catcher." His competition will include Geovany Soto, Adrian Nieto, and Kevan Smith. Those are not very exciting names, especially not for the future. Josh Phegley could have been a serious threat to Flowers' starting spot, but he was traded to the A's in December. As Chicago has two more years of team control on him, this might the last chance for Flowers to secure his spot before the White Sox make a move.

What would make it happen?

Maybe Chicago wants to roll with Flowers and the other veterans for this year and see how it goes. But if this bet does not pay off before the trade deadline and the White Sox are contending, there would be an opportunity for the Mets to make a deal, especially if they are not contending.

Let's imagine a Daniel Murphy-Kevin Plawecki package. The Mets could expect in return youngsters like Tim Anderson (SS, 21 years old and the White Sox's No. 1 prospect according to Baseball Prospectus), Micah Johnson (2B, 24 years old), Tyler Saladino (SS, 25) or Emilio Bonifacio (2B, 29) with some other prospects. In this case, there is a lot of "if" of course, but both franchises have some things to discuss in my opinion. Otherwise, they could still explore a trade during the offseason.

St. Louis Cardinals

A few years ago, the Cards had arguably the best catcher in the game with Yadier Molina. Now, the situation is slightly different in St. Louis as people are starting to look at his age (32 years old), especially after missing 40 games in 2014 due to a ligament surgery on his right thumb. However, "Yadios" should be 100% healthy by spring training. So why should the Cardinals wonder about a potential trade for Plawecki? Because Molina won't be able to maintain his exceptional defense forever and because behind him, St. Louis does not have a lot of depth.

Tony Cruz made 150 plate appearances last season for the Redbirds and posted a .200/.270/.259 line for a -0.5 fWAR. Not exactly the kind of production you want to replace Molina. Plawecki could add some great depth to their roster and also secure their future at this position.

What could make it happen?

The Cardinals do not have a lot to offer to help the Mets' infield situation. Their farm is stacked with pitching talent... and 23-year-old right-fielder Stephen Piscotty. He had a great year in Triple-A with a .288/.355/.406 line and is ranked by Baseball Prospectus as the number one prospect in the Cardinals organization. But, as it stands there isn't any major reason for the Cards to trade him. That might change after the season if they sign Jayson Heyward, who is only 25 years old if you needed a reminder, to a long-term contract. This option could give them the opportunity to trade Piscotty in exchange for some other great prospects.

I believe that, if this was to happen, the Mets should go for it and include Plawecki in the trade. Cuddyer is locked in for the next two seasons but he had a lot of injuries in 2014, and if Piscotty was brought in, Cuddyer could be used as depth in the outfield. The major issue here is that Molina's contract runs until 2018 and he will earn $14.75M on average over the next three seasons. The Cards made a serious commitment to him in 2013, and they won't just abandon every hope that easily.

These three possibilities are intriguing, because they would provide the Mets with new talent in the infield or the outfield and also suggest that d'Arnaud achieved a great 2015 season. I really believe there are lots of options that the team should consider instead of letting Plawecki sit behind d'Arnaud forever and maybe reduce his trade value in the future.