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Tomás Nido has one more chance to prove he belongs with the Mets

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Nido could be the team’s long-term backup catcher, or he might not stick in the big leagues.

MLB: New York Mets at Chicago White Sox Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets didn’t give Tomás Nido nearly enough playing time last season. It was an understandable decision: In parts of three seasons entering 2020, Nido demonstrated a perfectly capable glove behind the plate and a wholly incapable bat. In 144 plate appearances over 50 games in 2019, Nido hit .191/.231/.316, recording just a 40 wRC+.

And then he turned it on in 2020. In 26 plate appearances over nine games, Nido hit .292/.346/.583, rocketing to a 149 wRC+ while still showing plus-defense. The caveat to Nido’s Piazza-like stretch is that it was only over nine games, which isn’t nearly enough time to determine whether Nido suddenly turned into a serviceable big-league hitter. But in what ultimately turned out to be a disappointing season for the Mets, it was certainly enough to merit more playing time to see how long his hot streak could stretch. The Mets playing Wilson Ramos as much as they did in 2020 looks like one of the team’s biggest mistakes in retrospect, especially with Ramos’s declining bat and his expiring contract.

Ramos is no longer in Nido’s way, but the Mets signing James McCann in the offseason all but assures Nido’s place as the team’s backup catcher for 2021. The recent Caleb Joseph signing shouldn’t worry Nido too much, either, as Joseph’s capable defense and sub-par bat pegs him as Nido-but-nine-years-older. If Nido can raise his offensive output to just a little below league average while maintaining his above-average defense, then there’s reason to believe he’ll stay as a backup for the duration of McCann’s contract.

Nido’s defense is worth exploring. In 2019, he ranked 19th amongst all major league catchers in Catcher Defensive Adjustment, Baseball Prospectus’s all-encompassing catching defense metric. Nido’s defensive value doesn’t come from his arm, as he ranked near the bottom in Swipe Rate Above Average despite an elite pop-time to second base. Where Nido shines is pitch framing: He ranked 11th in Called Strikes Above Average in 2019, ahead of reputable defensive stalwarts like J.T. Realmuto and Yadier Molina. In 2020, he shot up to fourth in CSAA, albeit in a small sample size. Nido’s excellence at this skill directly contrasts to Ramos’s utter indifference to pitch framing, which alone should’ve given him more opportunities to catch over Ramos in 2020. But his offense kept him on the bench, and that is also worth exploring.

It’s safe to assume that Nido’s offensive outburst in 2020 was a fluke, especially since he’s never posted an OPS above .816 in the minors. He hit the ball harder and struck out a little less often than he did in 2019, but in too small a sample size to make anything of it, especially when a good percentage of his offensive output came in just one game. What Nido did in 2020 amounts to a backup playing out of his mind for a two-week period in a normal season. But in a normal season, he would be given more chances to play, and the Mets should definitely offer Nido that opportunity in 2021.

The one trouble spot for the Mets is that Nido is out of minor league options. If Nido looks more like he did in 2019 than some semblance of 2020, the Mets should consider someone like Joseph or Patrick Mazeika to take his place as McCann’s backup. But that could be the end of Nido in Queens, as the lack of quality catching options around the league means he would likely be picked up off waivers if the Mets designated him for assignment. The Mets could also do what they did for Ali Sánchez earlier this spring and find a trade partner to recoup some value for Nido, but with no obvious choice in the minors to take his place, the organization should consider it a last resort. If no one shines in the minors, the Mets might have to stick with Nido in the majors this season whether he plays well or not.

The good news for Mets fans is that Nido has demonstrated enough to show he can be a solid backup catcher for 2021, and hopefully for many years after. The bad news is that the Mets can’t really afford to see if Nido can put it all together for a full season. But Nido doesn’t need to stretch his 2020 output for a full season to maintain a spot on the roster—just some flashes from last season should suffice.