The catcher position has been something of a sinkhole of production for the Mets ever since the days of Mike Piazza. The last time the Mets had top-ten offensive production by wRC+ from behind the dish was 2005, which you may remember was the last time the Piazza played for the Mets. Since then, the Mets have cycled through a litany of middling-at-best backstops who rarely provided enough offensive punch and even more rarely were great defenders.
In the 16 seasons since Piazza departed, Travis d’Arnaud’s 8.6 fWAR in six seasons with the Mets is the highest of all catchers in that time frame by a long shot. Second on the list is Paul Lo Duca, coming in at 2.7 fWAR over his two seasons. And then the list immediately gets into the Josh Tholes, Rene Riveras, and Ramon Castros of the world.
Sandy Alderson’s first big signing in his second tenure with the Mets looked to buck that trend. Despite J.T. Realmuto being on the market, Alderson went hard after James McCann, whom he inked to a four-year, $40 million deal in early December. Teaming him and his 114 wRC+ since the start of 2019 along with the defense of Tomàs Nido had the potential to be one of the more dynamic catching tandems the Mets have had in many years.
It turns out they were one of the worst catching tandems the Mets have ever had. McCann caught in 107 games, while Nido caught in 52. Patrick Mazeika and Chance Sisco combined to make up the rest of the playing time while Nido and McCann were hurt. The four of them combined for a 71 WRC+, which was the lowest mark for Mets catchers since 2016, and 12th-lowest in franchise history.
That wRC+ was also 25th in baseball among catchers, finishing only above the catching tandems on the Orioles, Rangers, Marlins, Braves, and Cleveland. You may notice that, outside of the Braves, none of those teams were good. Mets catchers also finished 23rd in fWAR in baseball with just 1.1 fWAR to go around for the four of them.
The big anchor driving down the value here is obviously McCann, who posted an unsightly 80 WRC+, 78 DRC+, and was only worth 0.5 fWAR and 0.3 WARP in 112 games and 412 PAs. Giving that many PAs to offensive production that poor will sink your offense enough, but even more so when nearly 30% (123 PAs) of them came with McCann batting 3rd, 4th, or 5th in the lineup.
Nido was never expected to carry the load offensively, and his 63 wRC+ in 161 PAs actually represents his best full season yet. He is truly one of the better defensive catchers solely because of his framing, as Baseball Savant rated him as the single best framer in baseball this year. That has significant value, as borne out by his 0.9 fWAR and his 0.7 WARP despite his awful offensive numbers and his limited playing time. Nido’s framing represents nearly all of the value the Mets got from their catchers this year.
Mazeika had some fun moments and Sisco had a big hit in San Francisco, but neither are major league quality players and really shouldn’t ever see high-leverage at bats.
Catcher would be the most obvious area to improve for the Mets going into 2022, but the logistics of McCann’s contract and the lack of clear and sufficient upgrades on the market make that difficult to do. Mike Zunino would probably be their best free agent bet, and Willson Contreras may be available in a trade. Either of those two could pair with Nido and be a real upgrade at the position. However, McCann’s contract is going to be difficult to move, and if they can’t move it, the Mets probably would not want to tie up that much money into two catchers.
Unfortunately, it would be hard to take the Mets seriously as a threat in 2022 if they run with the tandem of McCann and Nido once again and expect different results. Changes are needed throughout the lineup, and catcher is no exception.