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Grading the Mets’ Omar Narvaez signing

This is a weird one, to be sure.

Miami Marlins v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

In the downtime period between big splash signings—I’ll get to Correa soon, I promise—the Mets made one of the odder additions of the offseason, signing catcher Omar Narváez to a one-year, $8 million deal with a $7 million player option for 2024. With a bevy of catchers on the roster—including an MLB-ready, global top-five prospect in Francisco Álvarez—the fit here is difficult to understand.

Narváez is a nice player in a vacuum. After being a terrible framer early in his career in Seattle, he’s been borderline elite in that regard since being acquired by the Brewers in 2020. Framing is a fairly sticky skill, and we have nearly 250 games worth of evidence to support the idea that Narváez has improved significantly in this area, making it fairly safe assumption that he’ll consider to excel with the glove. With the bat, he’s less of a standout; a career 101 wRC+ is nice, but he’s been closer to Tomás Nido in two of the last three seasons than an actually useful hitter. He does swing from the left side, making him something of a natural platoon partner for Nido, though you might still prefer the latter due to his top-of-the-scale defense.

From a pure value standpoint, this deal is also a nice one. Narváez’s defense was strong enough to carry him to about a win of value (1.1 fWAR, 0.8 WARP) in just under 300 PA last season. If his bat bounces back a bit, he’s legitimately one of the better catchers in baseball. He’s a slightly worse, slightly younger version of Christian Vázquez, and Vázquez got twice as much guaranteed money this offseason. If the Mets were simply looking to complement Nido and build a serviceable, defense-first catcher platoon, this is a very nice move.

But that’s not the situation the Mets are looking at. James McCann has been booted off the roster, but the presence of Álvarez still gives the Mets a very crowded catching situation. Álvarez is essentially major league ready, a potential franchise star behind the dish who has already laid waste to the minors. It seemed likely that he’d be the starter for the team leaving camp this year. Now, he faces a bit of a logjam; the newly signed Narváez and the out-of-options Nido both stand in his way.

Maybe the Mets plan to carry three catchers, but I think that actively hurts both the roster and Álvarez specifically. Having a top prospect of Álvarez’s caliber and importance to the organization as a bench piece is a non-starter for development reasons, meaning you have to find Álvarez everyday playing time or close to it somehow. Daniel Vogelbach is too good against right-handed pitching to merit sitting him often in favor of Álvarez at DH, so Álvarez needs to be the starting catcher. At that point, the team is carrying two bench catchers with zero defensive flexibility and well below-average bats, a setup that really doesn’t make much sense. I have to assume that this is not a roster alignment the Mets are seriously considering.

Alternatively, perhaps Mets don’t think Álvarez is ready for the big leagues yet, an assessment I heartily disagree with. (Note: I’ll also give this new Mets regime the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re not simply playing service time games here, particularly given the potential draft pick rewards that were implemented last season.) There’s little left for Álvarez to prove with the bat given his absurd Double-A performance and strong Triple-A showing after initial adjustments. His defense isn’t great, but it’s not disastrous, either, and at some point you need to give him a chance to sink or swim. Moreover, even if Álvarez isn’t ready just yet, he will be at some point in 2023, at which point the Mets will again be faced with the bench logjam issue we just talked about.

The most grim assessment relates to Álvarez’s October ankle surgery. Reportedly, pre-existing loose bodies in his ankle led to cartilage damage, an injury that was initially set to end his season early. Instead, Álvarez recovered and got into some late season games for the Mets, postponing the operation until the offseason. Lower-body surgeries for a catcher are always concerning, particularly one of Álvarez’s size and defensive reputation. Still, all signs indicated that this was a fairly minor procedure and that Álvarez should be ready for spring training. If that’s not the case, then signing Narváez would make a ton of sense as an insurance move. Narváez’s player option would also make sense here; perhaps the Mets wanted some longer term insurance in case Álvarez’s injury is a major issue, while Narváez wanted a way out if he had to cede the starting job by the middle of the season.

If more information comes to light regarding the final scenario discussed here, I’ll see this move in a more positive light. As is, however, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to block an elite prospect who has demonstrated MLB-readiness or to clog the bench with a bunch of redundant players, even if the contract itself is fine value. The Narváez signing receives a C for the moment.