The buzz around the New York Mets’ training camp this spring is unlike anything that fans have experienced in a long time. Even General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen has shared his optimistic vision for this ballclub, despite Bryce Harper’s decision to sign in Philadelphia by declaring, “I believe that we can beat any team, any time and no player signing is going to change that mindset.” Now with Mets Manager Mickey Callaway on the clock in his sophomore year with the club, I hope this will drive his competitiveness up a notch while hopefully pushing him toward a pennant – and settling the catching position will be a key to his ability to manage and lead this team to a championship.
Even before Van Wagenen took up the GM post for the Mets organization, the catching position had always been one of the weaknesses on the 25-man roster, with no clear starter to hold down the position in recent years. Now with the emergence of this new and improved front office, the Mets have signed a top-ranked big-league catcher in Wilson Ramos, a 31-year old who is entering his 10thmajor league season. Following the signing of his two-year, $19 million contract, I think it’s safe to assume that, baring any injuries, Ramos is slated to begin Opening Day as the Mets starting catcher.
Although this is only one of several question marks for this ballclub heading into the 2019 season, other concerns remain about their ability to compete. While I don’t think there’s any question that the Mets compete in the toughest division currently in the Majors (with the reigning NL East champions, Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals, and the much-improved Philadelphia Philliesall significantly improved ballclubs after this past offseason), I do believe that the Mets catchers will ultimately have a huge impact on how successful they will be; especially if they make the right choice with Ramos’ back up.
Due to season-ending Tommy John surgery, Travis d’Arnaud’s 2018 season was cut short. As a result, I think his return to baseball activities this spring raises many questions about what his role with this club will be. Although d’Arnaud still has the potential to be a great hitter in the Majors, his inability to stay healthy and play a full season of ball has always prevented him from reaching his full potential since his professional debut in 2013. For this reason, I think it would be wise for the Mets to try and find some playing time for him in the field – either at third base or left field – instead of relying on him to perform behind the dish. Currently, he is getting his at bats at the DH position for the club in Spring Training.
Also competing for the backstop position this season, 30-year old Devin Mesoraco had an impressive stint with the Mets in 2018, after being acquired last May in a deal that shipped Matt Harvey out of Flushing. His presence in camp, however, makes this position one of the most highly scrutinized for this team, due to the competition that will arise between these players for the backup catching job.
Mesoraco is also coming off a season-ending neck injury which shut him down in September. Before the injury, however, the highlight of his season was his fantastic connection with Mets ace, and reigning NL Cy Young award winner, Jacob deGrom. Mesoraco was behind the plate for 21 of deGrom’s 34 starts, where he pitched to a 1.60 ERA in those games. Because of his arguably superior defensive skills over d’Arnaud, I think it would be smart for Callaway to give Mesoraco the backup job and then move d’Arnaud around the diamond or shop him around the league.
Additionally, since both Mesoraco and d’Arnaud are thirty-years-old and have each had issues with staying healthy, unless one of them has a noticeably better spring training, I think the Mets should start the season with Mesoraco as the designated backup catcher. Still, it may be possible for them to carry three catchers if they decide that d’Arnaud can produce at the plate after his Tommy-John surgery and if he can be platooned elsewhere in the field.
Obviously, Ramos will be the starter as long as he is healthy, but behind him on the depth chart should be Mesoraco due to his chemistry with deGrom, his defense behind the plate and his adequate bat which makes him the most reliable of the two. If the Mets can find d’Arnaud a spot on the bench as a back third baseman or left fielder, they should stick with him as solid right-handed bat off the bench. That opportunity would only be there if he stays healthy, which he never seems to do.
Currently, Mesoraco is playing on a Minor League contract, while d’Arnaud is slated to earn $3.5 million in arbitration this season. Therefore, it really comes down to which player the Mets feel more confident in playing behind Ramos. Production should be the only contributing factor to this decision.