Going into the season, the New York Mets expected a platoon of Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki to hold down the fort behind the plate. Fate threw a wrench in those plans when d’Arnaud suffered a torn UCL in his right elbow in early April. On the same day the club announced that d’Arnaud needed Tommy John surgery and would miss the rest of the season, Plawecki broke his hand after being hit by a pitch and was forced to miss six weeks of action.
With the prospect of the ineffective Jose Lobaton and the inexperienced Tomas Nido bearing the brunt of the catching responsibilities, the team acquired veteran Devin Mesoraco in a deal that sent starter Matt Harvey to the Cincinnati Reds. At the time of the trade, Mesoraco was 9-for-41 in 18 games for the Reds with a 71 wRC+, a .122 ISO, and a .630 OPS. At that point in the season, Mets catchers had posted a National League-worst .167 batting average and .083 ISO while ranking fourth from the bottom with a 57 wRC+.
The trade paid immediate dividends for the Mets. Mesoraco hit five home runs in his first 15 games with the club and posted a .989 OPS and a 167 wRC+ during that time, which gave the club their first measurable offensive production from the catcher position all year. His playing time and production diminished somewhat once Plawecki returned in late May, but he still posted a commendable 116 wRC+, .207 ISO, and .775 OPS in 40 games with the Mets through July 9.
Things took a turn for Mesoraco in the second half as he struggled to produce at the level he had earlier in his Mets tenure and suffered a neck injury that limited his time on the field. Following the All-Star break, he entered into a more traditional platoon with Plawecki and started 16 of the team’s next 33 games. In that stretch, Mesoraco went 9-for-52 (.173) with two home runs, a 57 wRC+, a .154 ISO, and a .606 OPS.
On August 23, Mesoraco exited a game in the fifth inning with neck stiffness and landed on the disabled list the following day. The injury lingered for the remainder of the season and resulted in Mesoraco appearing in just six more games. The highlight of his final month came on September 27 when he connected on a pinch-hit, three-run home run against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field to lead the team to a 4-1 victory. Mesoraco finished the season with a .222/.309/.406 slash line in 66 games with the Mets. His 96 wRC+, .196 ISO, and 0.7 fWAR were his best numbers since his 2014 All-Star campaign.
He also served as Jacob deGrom’s catcher throughout most of his Cy Young-worthy season and caught 21 of his final 25 starts. In those starts, deGrom posted a 1.60 ERA and recorded 168 strikeouts. While the term “personal catcher” was never used, deGrom went so far as to tell reporters, “I throw the ball well to him I feel every time he’s been out there... it’s nice having him behind the plate” and the numbers helped justify that sentiment.
Despite the praise, Mesoraco statistically did not have a great defensive year. He allowed eight passed balls, which was the seventh-most among National League backstops, and posted an abysmal -6.6 fielding runs above average (FRAA) and -6 DRS with the Mets. He threw out base runners at a 21% clip (11 out of 52), which fell short of his 24% career average and placed him in the bottom third in the league.
Even with the inconsistent results, Mesoraco proved to be a solid pick-up for the Mets. From the date of the trade, Mets catchers ranked fourth in the National League with a .165 ISO and they had a team 89 wRC+ from their catchers. Among 32 catchers with at least 200 plate appearances, Mesoraco ranked 15th in ISO, 18th in wRC+, and 19th in OPS.
The Mets will have several catcher-related questions to address as they formulate their offseason plan. Are they interested in picking up an established veteran like Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos to serve as their catcher next year? Has Plawecki provided enough evidence that he can be a effective major league catcher? Will the team cut ties with d’Arnaud following his latest injury setback? If the Mets miss out on the prized free agent catchers and do not feel satisfied with the options they already have, Mesoraco could potentially find himself back with the club in 2019.