Welcome to One Last Move, where our writers pitch a move to the Mets that would close out their offseason and make the team better in 2020.
Between forcing Devin Mesoraco into retirement and watching Travis d’Arnaud turn things around for another club last season, one would think that the Mets would have learned some sort of lesson about their catching situation by now. Alas, it seems they have not. In early December, Brodie Van Wagenen cited the addition of Ali Sanchez to the 40-man roster as the reason the Mets feel “pretty comfortable” with their catching situation.
Of course, that line of reasoning is weak at best and absurd at worst, and not much has changed about the Mets’ outlook for the catching position since then. As of this writing, Tomas Nido, along with his 40 wRC+ in 2019, remains the likely backup catcher on Opening Day. While he was certainly an improvement defensively over Wilson Ramos, that bar is not exactly high, and his defensive skills still did not reach elite marks last season. He especially struggled with throwing runners out, which is a skill the Mets need in their defensively-minded backup catcher, given their pitching staff’s stolen base woes. In other words, his defense did not make up for the utter lack of offensive production. Sanchez posted a .179/.277/.250 in Triple-A last season. Our prospect team ranks him as the Mets’ 23rd best prospect and while reports of his defensive skills are glowing, his bat has not yet developed to the point where he can even hope to match Nido’s level of production at the plate.
The Mets did bring in a familiar face in veteran Rene Rivera to fortify their catching depth, which made Noah Syndergaard happy. However, the fact remains that the Mets must do better for their backup catching position. The Mets were extremely fortunate that Wilson Ramos played in 141 games last season, given his injury history. They simply cannot rely on that happening again.
At this point, pickings are slim on the free agent market at the catching position, but Russell Martin is the free agent catcher still available that makes for the best foil for Ramos. Martin has extremely solid pitch framing skills, particularly in the lower part of the zone, which should be well suited to the Mets’ pitching staff—particularly Macrus Stroman, who Martin has caught in the past. He ranked 22nd among all major league catchers in adjusted FRAA in 2019 according to Baseball Prospectus, coming in just behind Tomas Nido, who ranked 19th. While Martin’s success throwing runners out has slipped as he enters his age 37 season, his 18% caught stealing percentage in 2019 still beat out Tomas Nido’s abysmal 8% mark, and his throwing arm remains touted as a plus tool. One can count the number of catchers in baseball on one hand who can bring both solid defense behind the plate and above average offensive production to the table. Martin’s 83 wRC+ in 2019 is palatable enough from the catching position and certainly an improvement over Nido.
Russell Martin, who is more or less an equivalent pitch framer to Nido at worst, but also brings a much better bat and likely a better arm as well, is a clear upgrade for the Mets in a position of need at a price that would likely not even come close to breaking the bank for a team still well under the luxury tax threshold. The veteran backstop is an experienced game-caller who would be a good match for the Mets’ pitching staff. It feels like a no-brainer final move to give the Mets more insurance behind Wilson Ramos, especially given what transpired last season.