Rene Rivera should have spent more time with the 2019 Mets.
After the jettisoning of Kevin Plawecki before the season started and the still-somewhat-useful Travis d’Arnaud in April, the Mets needed to fill a hole in the major league roster behind Wilson Ramos. They chose Tomas Nido, which, while an understandable choice at the time, spoke to their lack of depth at the position. When your best option for a backup catcher was barely discernable from whatever he was batting in front of and whose defense only looked immaculate in comparison to Ramos’ lack of passable skills, you have a problem.
(It is here that I would like to remind everyone that Devin Mesoraco, while not very good in 2018, was an option, but instead was put on ice by the Mets merely because he asked to other be in the majors or released.)
But, like I said, it was a fine choice at the time. Yet, as the season wore on, a familiar face was making noise in the minors. Rivera, who played with the Mets in 2016 and part of 2017, was back in their system after bouncing around the league for a year and change. And he was absolutely torching with Triple-A Syracuse, most notably with 25 home runs by the end of the season, good for a tie for eighth-most in the International League.
And yet, while Rivera was blasting home runs with the same ball being used in the majors (to account for the fact that he’s never hit more than 10 homers at any level) and Nido was in the midst of posting a 40 wRC+ with a batting line of .191/.231/.316 in the majors, neither moved.
Rivera, admittedly, turned 36 this season, while Nido is 25. However, attempting to develop a catcher that doesn’t have much chance to develop anyway when you’re in the thick of a semi-improbable playoff chase shouldn’t factor too heavily into your decision-making.
Rivera, who is also about solidly average as far as defense goes, instead wallowed uselessly in Triple-A. He hit .254/.319/.501(!), adding 13 doubles to his 25 homers.
He finally cracked the majors on August 24, after Nido landed on the IL with a concussion. By the time Nido was back, rosters had expanded and Rivera remained with the Mets.
Rivera, because it’s the Mets, managed to be involved in some controversy despite only appearing in nine games: after it was leaked that Noah Syndergaard was less-than-enthused about pitching to Wilson Ramos, Rivera caught him on September 17 (though Ramos caught Syndergaard in the immediate aftermath of the leak). Catcher ERA and whatnot are noisy at best so I won’t quote them here, but things seemed to go well, and complaints about Ramos as a catcher are warranted (to be nice).
In his nine appearances with the Mets, Rivera recorded four hits and one home run. That homer, a two-run shot, came off the Braves’ Mike Foltynewicz in Game 161. You can be forgiven for forgetting it: Pete Alonso broke the MLB rookie home run record later that inning with his 53rd homer of the season.
There’s no real reason to expect the 36-year-old Rivera to return to the Mets next season. They had their chance to deploy a backup catcher that had a weird affinity for launching 2019’s juiced ball, but chose to stick with Nido in quietly one of the more baffling personnel decisions the Mets made this season.