In his final year of control with the Mets, Travis d’Arnaud is, for the first time, not expected to be a starter. Long plagued by serious injuries and unmet expectations, he has a lot to prove before hitting the market next offseason.
The fact that d’Arnaud got tendered a contract at all after missing nearly all of 2018 due to a UCL tear and Tommy John surgery raised a few eyebrows, but the chance that d’Arnaud could be a decent (and maybe even healthy) backup earned him a $3.5 million contract. With Devin Mesoraco returning to the team on a minor league deal, d’Arnaud is the presumptive second-in-command to free agent acquisition Wilson Ramos.
The 30 year old d’Arnaud has seen more than his share of ups and downs on the field, when he was able to stay on it at all. He maxed out at 421 plate appearances in 2014 and hasn’t hit 400 since then.
It’s hard to say how much that missed time cost him developmentally, to say nothing of the physical toll of the concussions, broken bones, and surgeries that have kept him out of commission, but outside of a stellar second half of 2015, he has never shown the offensive potential that had him heralded as a top prospect when the Mets snagged him as part of the R.A. Dickey trade in 2012.
D’Arnaud enters the season with a career 96 wRC+, a mark that would be strong for a catcher if it wasn’t so heavily weighted by early years he failed to capitalize on. He has hit for decent power compared to his peers and would be averaging around 20 home runs in a full season if he ever played one. He’s been effective at limiting strikeouts over most of his career, but his lack of speed costs him the BABIP that would boost his batting average and has only one season with an above-average walk rate.
Defensively, his shortcomings have always been much more visible than his strengths. Though his poor throwing arm was certainly exacerbated by receiving from pitchers notoriously bad at holding runners, it did not come entirely as a surprise when his elbow injury was revealed last April. He has always been an excellent framer, but in recent years, the rest of the league has caught up with him leaving him with few selling points behind the plate.
The team has talked up d’Arnaud’s ability to play elsewhere in the diamond and it will be interesting to see if they pursue it, especially if he gets hot at the plate and injuries thin out the rest of the roster. We may never see a repeat of the 3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B official scoring he put up back in 2017, but he can’t be worse than Duda in the outfield.
He’s a hard player to pin a prediction on because he’s had so little consistent time in his career, but PECOTA, ZiPS, and Steamer all see him providing about a win’s worth of value on the basis of a bat just about league average for catcher and that feels like a fair middle ground. All three of the team’s catchers have messy injury histories so it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where d’Arnaud gets the majority of the season and makes good on it. But likewise, he could break his arm tomorrow and never play at all (for what it’s worth, he’s still working his way towards Spring Training games as he rehabs post-Tommy John). But one thing’s for sure about Travis: he has a lot left to prove.