Last offseason, the Mets faced a tough decision with catcher Travis d’Arnaud. The once-heralded prospect had suffered through an injury-laden career to that point, and was coming off Tommy John Surgery. d’Arnaud had been a decent catcher when healthy, but was due $3.5 million in arbitration coming off a lost season, and the Mets already had Kevin Plawecki and were looking to sign another catcher.
The team decided to tender him the contract, and still signed Wilson Ramos and Devin Mesoraco anyway. With too many catchers at the inn, the Mets needed to clear some space, so they traded away Plawecki, but remained staunchly committed to d’Arnaud despite not knowing whether he’d even be ready for the season.
d’Arnaud received limited playing time in spring training, and did not catch much. The Mets still could have cut him in spring and would have only needed to pay him 30-45 days’ worth of termination pay, but they once again stayed committed to their former top prospect. When the roster crunch at the end of spring came, d’Arnaud, not able to be sent down, started the season on the IL, and the Mets sent Mesoraco down to Triple-A, a decision that instead just forced Mesoraco into retirement.
So the Mets had cleared the way for d’Arnaud to receive ample playing time as Ramos’s backup, ridding themselves of Plawecki and Mesoraco and leaving the offensively-challenged Tomas Nido as the only man in his way. They seemed very intent on giving d’Arnaud another chance.
d’Arnaud was activated from the IL from April 6, after a very brief rehab stint, and was still clearly not ready for big league action. His bat was slow, he wasn’t hitting anything hard, and the early results were ugly; he was just 1-for-20 with two walks to start the season. On April 27, d’Arnaud got the start at catcher and went 1-for-3. The one hit was a sharply-hit single to left field, but d’Arnaud got thrown out trying to extend it to a double. This was apparently the last straw for a certain irrational Mets decision maker (most likely someone named Wilpon), as d’Arnaud was promptly DFA’d the next day, and subsequently released. The Mets had given up on their $3.5 million investment after just 25 plate appearances.
After his release, d’Arnaud initially signed with the Dodgers, but they didn’t have much room for him, so his stint there was short. He then latched on with the Rays, where he got off to a 1-for-21 start and faced another DFA, but quickly went gangbusters from there. From May 24 on, d’Arnaud hit .278/.336/.487 with 16 homers for the Rays in 342 PAs, which is good for a 118 wRC+.
That 118 wRC+ is higher than the 105 wRC+ that Ramos put up this season, and d’Arnaud’s 1.6 fWAR in 103 games on the year doubles the 0.8 fWAR that the Mets got out of their catchers this season. d’Arnaud was one of the main reasons the Rays exceeded expectations by so much and made the playoffs. In the end, it looks all he needed was a little more time to get acclimated after missing essentially all of the 2018 season.
The Mets giving up so quickly on a player whom they handed $3.5 million to and cleared catcher depth for was a fundamentally odd decision by itself, made even worse by the fact that d’Arnaud very quickly proved he actually still had a lot left in the tank. The entire saga was horrendous process, and exposed a lot of flaws in how the team evaluates it’s own players and makes roster decisions.