After back-to-back seasons of steady offensive gains in 2014 and 2015, Mets’ starting catcher Travis d’Arnaud had a miserable 2016 as his power disappeared and his offense subsequently cratered. Mets fans have grown accustomed to the yearly injuries but d’Arnaud’s limited time on the field has at least come with average or better offense the two seasons prior. That wasn’t the case this year.
|2014||108||421||13||48||41||1||7.6 %||15.2 %||.174||.259||.242||.302||.416||.313||102|
|2015||67||268||12||31||41||8.6 %||18.3 %||.218||.289||.268||.340||.485||.355||130|
|2016||75||276||4||27||15||6.9 %||18.1 %||.076||.293||.247||.307||.323||.279||74|
The key stat there is d’Arnaud’s ISO (Isolated Slugging), which at .218 ranked #1 among MLB catchers with at least 250 plate appearances in 2015. At .076 in 2016, d’Arnaud’s ISO was lower than Bartolo Colon and Steven Matz (.083), among many other hitters on the Mets’ roster.
If d’Arnaud is hitting for power like he did in 2015 or even 2014, he’s still a useful asset. At 28 years old next season, he’s firmly in the age range for an offensive breakout, provided some semblance of health and the return of his power. But will he ever be able to stay on the field? And will his power return after showing so much promise a year ago?
Given his success at the plate in 2015, it’s reasonable to give d’Arnaud another shot, but the Mets are undoubtedly going to need another catcher who can split time with him and also function as an adequate starting catcher if d’Arnaud goes down again or continues to struggle. We’ll take a look at what’s available in-house, on the free agent market, and a couple of possible trade options.
Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera
Woof. Kevin Plawecki is still only 25 years old, but two seasons and 409 plate appearances into his major league career, Plawecki is a career .211/.287/.285 hitter. Even at a position that’s mostly bereft of offense, that won’t cut it. In the event that d’Arnaud gets hurt again, the Mets simply cannot risk trotting Plawecki out there as the top insurance plan for a third straight season.
Rene Rivera was a revelation for the Mets, though that likely says more about d’Arnaud and Plawecki. Aside from his arm, which is a legitimate weapon behind the plate, Rivera swings a wet noodle. He hit .222/.291/.341 in 2016, similar to his career .213/.264/.332 line. That’s better than Plawecki, but if he’s the best the Mets can do, that’s not terribly inspiring.
If the Mets decide to check out the free agent market behind the plate, the two top options are...
Wilson Ramos and Matt Wieters
Wilson Ramos is the top dog on the catching market this offseason but he’s not without warts. There’s some similarity to d’Arnaud here: He’s had a multitude of injury issues over the years and has a couple of subpar offensive seasons on his ledger, in 2014 and particularly 2015 when he was one of the worst starting catchers in the majors.
|2014||88||361||11||32||47||4.7 %||15.8 %||.132||.290||.267||.299||.399||.306||93|
|2015||128||504||15||41||68||4.2 %||20.0 %||.128||.256||.229||.258||.358||.265||63|
|2016||131||523||22||58||80||6.7 %||15.1 %||.189||.327||.307||.354||.496||.361||124|
The biggest question surrounding Ramos is his most recent injury, a torn ACL, which Ramos himself has acknowledged may send him to an American League team this offseason. If his Lasik-induced 2016 is sustainable, Ramos would be a huge boost to any club, but clearly there are risks there. For the Mets, would they be willing to plunk down the big money he’ll require plus give up a draft pick coming off an outlier season and an injury?
A step or so down from Ramos is Matt Wieters, whose reputation seems to be better than his actual performance. A very highly regarded prospect, Wieters has been around a league-average hitter in the majors. That plays fine at catcher, especially with his strong defense, but he hasn’t been the star that people expected.
|Career||.256||.318||.421||.321||97||8.2 %||18.8 %||.165||.286|
For the Mets, Wieters likely resembles an upgrade to their offensive floor. He’s far better offensively than Plawecki and better than Rivera as well. While he’s had his own injury issues, playing just 101 games combined from 2014-15, his career 97 wRC+ is perfectly solid for a catcher and he’s graded out as a positive defender every season of his career.
His free agent appeal almost feels like the catcher version of Asdrubal Cabrera (pre-Kevin Long Asdrubal Cabrera, that is): He gets overrated a bit because he has name recognition but is still essentially an average major leaguer. On a reasonable deal, say something in the range of what the Mets gave Cabrera last winter, an average catcher is a valuable player to have.
With the free agent market bare beyond that (Jason Castro? Nick Hundley? Yuck), let’s look at a couple of speculative trade options...
Stephen Vogt and Brian McCann
There’s no Jonathan Lucroy here, but either Vogt or McCann would still represent an upgrade for the Mets.
Vogt is not a sexy name or even an all that well-known name. He’s going to be 32 years old and his big league career got off to a late start, but he’s played like a perfectly average big league catcher. Let’s compare his career line to Wieters:
|Wieters||.256||.318||.421||.321||97||8.2 %||18.8 %||.165||.286|
|Vogt||.255||.315||.415||.315||101||7.8 %||16.5 %||.160||.280|
As you can see, Vogt has been a similar hitter to Wieters while playing in Oakland, a less forgiving yard than Baltimore’s bandbox. The big concerns here are trade cost for Vogt versus just paying cash for Wieters as a free agent and the year-and-a-half age difference, also an advantage for Wieters. On the positive side, Vogt has three more seasons of arbitration left and has versatility, having played some first base and corner outfield. Oakland, in rebuilding mode, could reel in a prospect for a catcher in his thirties who likely won’t be around when they’re ready to contend.
If the Mets decide they’re willing to go a little more expensive, McCann seems like he’ll be available due to the emergence of Gary Sanchez. This isn’t the Brian McCann of old, but he still can provide league average offense and play solid defense.
|2014||140||538||23||57||75||5.9 %||14.3 %||.174||.231||.232||.286||.406||.306||94|
|2015||135||535||26||68||94||9.7 %||18.1 %||.204||.235||.232||.320||.437||.327||106|
|2016||130||492||20||56||58||1||11.0 %||20.1 %||.170||.269||.242||.335||.413||.326||103|
The obvious problems here are the contract, both in dollars and length, and the fact that McCann is 33 years old. If payroll weren’t a concern, it would be easier to advocate taking on his contract and hoping he has a couple of productive years left splitting time with d’Arnaud. At $17,000,000 per year for 2017 and 2018 plus a team option for 2019, however, that seems like more than the Mets would be willing to take on.
So what should the Mets do behind the plate this offseason? Does Travis d’Arnaud get another shot? Should he be replaced? If they stick with d’Arnaud, will the Mets bring in another competent catcher who can start in case he gets injured and if so, who?