With the Mets having signed Wilson Ramos, plugging a major hole on their roster heading into next season, they have put themselves in a bit of a conundrum when it comes to the catching position that will need to be solved before Opening Day. With Travis d’Arnaud projected to be recovered from last season’s Tommy John surgery by Opening Day, the Mets now have three major league catchers—and one minor league catcher in Tomas Nido—on their 40-man roster. Given these circumstances, we are looking at one of three potential solutions:
- Trade one of Travis d’Arnaud or Kevin Plawecki to fill another hole on the roster.
- Carry three catchers on the 25-man roster with Travis d’Arnaud getting reps at other positions.
- Carry three catchers into spring training and cut Travis d’Arnaud if he is not healthy or is unproductive.
I am inclined to make the somewhat less than mainstream argument than the third option is the most wise course of action for the Mets. While I am sure that the Mets are weighing all three of these options, the first option is certainly getting the most traction at the moment, with the Mets reportedly getting “a lot of hits” on their catchers. A left-handed relief pitcher or a backup infielder or outfielder have all been cited as potential returns for one of their backstops.
On paper, this seems like an attractive course of action—trading from an area of strong depth to bolster an area of weakness. However, two of the Mets’ three catchers—Ramos and d’Arnaud—have robust injury histories. Historically, Kevin Plawecki is the most healthy of the three and is owed less money this season than d’Arnaud and is under control for longer, meaning that he is likely more valuable in trade. However, if the Mets were to trade Plawecki they are one injury away to two already injury prone catchers from seeing the likes of Tomas Nido and Jose Lobaton—or an equivalent—getting significant playing time again. While Nido’s defensive potential is undeniable, his bat does not yet play at the major league level and he could likely benefit from a full season at Triple-A, to be used only in emergency situations. We watched this play out last season and the results were not good. While Tomas Nido’s unsightly 20 wRC+ at the big league level is over a small sample size, it should serve as a cautionary tale against making the same mistake again.
Even if Plawecki does derive some trade value from his cheap price tag, years of control, and relative reliability as at least a serviceable backup, he is still not a super high-value asset. Any second-tier reliever or bench bat that could be had for Plawecki is likely still available into spring at relatively low cost. There is little need to deal either Plawecki or d’Arnaud right now unless it’s for an overpay. Meanwhile, the Mets would benefit from clearer knowledge of d’Arnaud’s health and readiness to play next season. While we have seen flashes of his upside, carrying d’Arnaud on the roster hoping that he can suddenly transform into a utility player with no evidence of his capability to do so, let alone to stay healthy at all, does not seem plausible, despite what Brodie Van Wagenen may be saying publicly.
The Mets’ unfortunate reality of operating under payroll constraints is well documented. Given this, it is somewhat puzzling why the Mets tendered d’Arnaud a contract in the first place. But since they have, failing a successful trade of d’Arnaud—and I have little faith teams will offer much of anything for him—there is little harm in entering spring training with robust catching depth for a change and letting the chips fall as they may. If injury befalls Ramos or Plawecki, d’Arnaud’s services will become necessary. If it does not, d’Arnaud can be let go cheaply and the money that would have gone towards his salary could be used to buy a free agent equivalent of whatever piece Plawecki likely would have netted in trade.
Of course, any trade can only be truly evaluated once it goes beyond the theoretical. No one is untouchable if the price is right, certainly not a backup catcher. But Plawecki shouldn’t be dealt just to be dealt. Absent an offer they can’t refuse, the Mets have nothing to lose by standing pat for the time being at one of the few positions where they do have adequate depth.