To the relief of many Met fans, Travis d’Arnaud has rejoined the roster from the disabled list and provided the Mets with a much-needed offensive jolt in the middle of their lineup. The return of d’Arnaud would naturally lead to the demotion of a catcher, as it is uncommon for a major league club to carry three catchers before the rosters expand in September. However, in a surprise move the Mets opted to demote perennial backup catcher Anthony Recker, as opposed to struggling rookie and touted prospect Kevin Plawecki.
Since debuting on April 21, Plawecki has struggled offensively, hitting just .211/.256/.312. Under normal circumstances, a near-.200 batting average would nearly guarantee a ticket back to the minor leagues, but as a top prospect Plawecki is perhaps an exception to that general policy. The initial plan was for Plawecki to soak up all the major league experience that he could during d’Arnaud's absence. If he were performing well at the plate, that could warrant a conversation for him to stay on the active roster. However, Plawecki has hardly been hitting at all, so the decision to option Recker and hold onto Plawecki is a little perplexing.
It’s only speculation, but there are a few potential reasons why Sandy Alderson and upper management would choose to make this move. Despite appearing in 127 games over the last three seasons for the Mets, Recker has barely been able to hold his own offensively, hitting just .198/.263/.369 with the Mets. In 2015, Recker has just seven hits in 49 at-bats and is not a very strong pinch-hitting threat off the bench. Moreover, Recker is not exactly a Gold Glove defender behind home plate, so in general he hasn't made a strong case to stick around.
With d’Arnaud back in the starting catcher role, a lack of playing time may well harm Plawecki's development. However, there is enough wiggle room on the roster for Terry Collins to find extra at-bats for the young catcher. For starters, the Mets will no doubt try to ease d’Arnaud back into things, considering his recent and lengthy disabled list stint. It is therefore plausible that Plawecki could find himself starting at catcher a couple of times a week.
There was also earlier talk of potentially using d’Arnaud as a corner outfielder. The rationale being that if his bat really develops, the team could decrease the wear and tear on his body in order to increase his longevity as a player. It's tough to know if d'Arnaud would be competent defensively in the outfield, (see: Lucas Duda or Daniel Murphy) but this could afford some additional starts at catcher for Plawecki.
Additionally, the team has already toyed with the idea of carrying three catchers this season. With Plawecki, d’Arnaud, and a lefty bat like Johnny Monell, it could give Terry Collins the freedom to mix a few pinch-hit at-bats in for each backup catcher. Previously, Recker was confined to the bench in order to be available for emergency situations, but with three catchers on the roster you could conceivably get a handful of pinch-hit at-bats in a week for Plawecki.
Lastly, Plawecki has a little bit of experience playing first base in the minors, so giving him a start there every now and then could afford Terry Collins the opportunity to give Michael Cuddyer and Lucas Duda an extra day off here and there.
In total, we're looking at about 15-to-20 potential at-bats per week for Plawecki between a few starts at catcher, the odd spot start at first base, and routine pinch-hitting duties. It’s not perfect, but it may be enough for Sandy Alderson to keep the young catcher around in hopes that his bat will come along. It may be risky from a development standpoint, but there is room to sneak Plawecki into the lineup and allow him to gain more experience at the major league level.