While the Mets made their first real splash of the winter with the signing of James McCann, the team did not do as much to bolster their catching depth until last week, when they signed Caleb Joseph to a split-contract. While the details of the deal are not clear yet, the move is an important one for the Mets, as their catching depth is, at best, below average, especially with Ali Sanchez departing for the Cardinals.
Joseph has spent most of his career as a backup catcher, primarily for the Orioles, but also has logged time with the Diamondbacks and the Blue Jays. A defense-first catcher, whose arm and pitch-framing are his two best attributes, Joseph has a little bit of pop in his bat, but overall misses contact and strikes out more frequently, while walking less frequently, than you would want for someone getting regular playing time.
However, he looks like a solid defensive improvement over Tomas Nido, even if offensively, it is a much closer call. Joseph has never had a negative dWAR season, and the seasons he plays more, he tends to have better offensive output, which should come as no surprise. Nido and Joseph are surprisingly similar players offensively, with Nido carrying a career .553 OPS, and Joseph a .621. Joseph has slightly more power - and we mean really slight - with a .128 career ISO compared to Nido’s .122. Joseph gets on base more (career .270 OBP to Nido’s .234), but again, likely not enough to push Nido out of a job, as he is out of minor league options.
The Mets are unlikely to carry three catchers for too much of the 2021 season, and Joseph seems likely to crack the big league team only if Nido really falters or gets hurt, or if Joseph suddenly turns into Mike Piazza on the offensive side of the plate. With James McCann untested with a full-season’s catching workload, it is especially important to have players who can fill in down the stretch. While Bruce Maxwell and Patrick Mazeika are also under contract, it seems like Joseph would b the first man up in case of an injury.
And so, even if Joseph would likely make the team if this was a straight meritocracy, the combination of Nido’s lack of options and existing relationship to the Mets’ pitchers likely gives him the edge out of spring training. That said, it seems incredibly likely that Joseph logs some time in the majors this season, and it wouldn’t be all that shocking if he was the Mets’ primary backup by the end of it.