One of the most obvious areas of need for the New York Mets this offseason is catcher. It wasn’t the worst part of the roster in 2018, but there are still a number of question marks that surround the position as we head into the winter.
Of the options currently on the Mets’ roster, Kevin Plawecki seems to be the most secure. That’s not said with a lot of confidence, but he has at least done more for his immediate future than Travis d’Arnaud.
Following a mostly lackluster 2017, d’Arnaud kept his yearly tradition alive of suffering an injury that kept him on the sidelines for a significant period of time. This one limited his 2018 season to just 16 plate appearances due to Tommy John surgery. After earning nearly $3.5 million, he certainly appears to be a non-tender candidate at the moment.
The Obvious Top Targets
One doesn’t have to look hard to see which available catchers will grab most of the attention once a World Series champion is crowned. Yasmani Grandal hasn’t had the kind of postseason he was hoping for thus far, but is coming off a strong regular-season campaign (125 wRC+, 24 home runs, .225 ISO, and 3.6 fWAR in 518 plate appearances) and will likely be looking for a multi-year guarantee prior to entering his age-30 season.
Wilson Ramos is a year older but should also command a similar amount of attention now that he has a full year under his belt following the unfortunate ACL injury. His production returned to his 2016 levels, too — he slashed .306/.358/.487 in 411 plate appearances, which helped lead to a 131 wRC+ and 2.4 fWAR for the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies.
With regard to the trade market, it’s likely going to be another winter full of rumors swirling around J.T. Realmuto, while Francisco Cervelli would be an intriguing win-now acquisition if the Pittsburgh Pirates want to unload him with one year and $11.5 million left on his current contract.
How The Market Could Work Against The Mets
Not even considering how New York would approach this particular position of need, it looks like there will be a bit of competition among other teams who also have a hole at catcher, along with aspirations of contending in 2019.
As Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors recently noted, teams like the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, and Washington Nationals could all be hanging out at the top of the catcher market, with a likely willingness to pay. There’s also the Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Oakland Athletics who fall in that same boat, and while they ultimately not pay top price, there could be a scenario where they stretch if the situation makes sense.
That doesn’t take other teams that either made the playoffs or contended for a trip to October this past year into consideration, like the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, Phillies, and even the Fall Classic-bound Boston Red Sox. Todd notes that these squads may not need an every-day player, but may investigate those options anyway.
What About The Bargain Bin?
Let’s be honest — even if there wasn’t a ton of anticipated competition in the offseason catcher market, the Mets still may end up looking for a cheaper option due to other limitations (read: the Wilpons). There aren’t going to be any perfect options closer to the bottom of the barrel, but there are three in particular that stick out.
One is 35-year-old Kurt Suzuki, whose bat has found new life over the past two seasons with Atlanta. He was part of a productive catching tandem with Tyler Flowers, slashing .276/.341/.485 with 31 home runs, 100 RBI, and a 116 wRC+ through 697 plate appearances since the start of 2017. Of the cheaper options that will be available, there’s a chance he’ll earn the biggest guarantee based of his recent offensive production.
That’d be a welcome addition for the Mets, as they just watched their group of backstops slash a collective .202/.289/353, which was good for a 79 wRC+.
On the other side of the coin, Martin Maldonado doesn’t have much to provide at the plate — he hasn’t posted a single-season wRC+ higher than 78 since 2014 — but his value mostly comes from what he does behind the plate. Grandal led qualified backstops with regard to Baseball Prospectus’ pitch-framing statistics, but Maldonado found himself in the top 20 in this category after leading the league in 2017.
Since New York is built upon its pitching staff, it’d be a huge benefit to have a catcher with Maldonado’s pitch-framing abilities, along with his knack for throwing runners out (he caught more than 40.0% of would-be base stealers in 2018).
Finally, there’s someone who had a solid reputation, but has fallen off in recent years: Jonathan Lucroy. His offense was horrific (70 wRC+ and .084 ISO in 454 plate appearances) and his pitch framing ranked 106th out of 117 qualified catchers in 2018, so it’s not as if his market will be bustling with suitors. Still, he also caught about 30.0% of base stealers this past year and did a good job of handling a very cobbled together starting staff.
Oakland’s rotation posted a collective 3.84 ERA through 299.2 second-half innings despite getting the majority of this production from guys like Edwin Jackson, Brett Anderson, and Trevor Cahill. The Mets, as we all know, have dealt with a few injuries here or there over the years (sarcasm intended) and it would be great to have a veteran catcher that can help get the most out of the pitchers who are active.
There’s still plenty for the Mets to figure out before deciding how they’re going to improve this roster over the next few months. A fresh voice and a new perspective could bring the kind of moves we’re hoping for, but it’s hard to gauge exactly how that’ll happen if Jeff Wilpon continues to be too involved in day-to-day baseball matters (or any matters at all).
Hanging out at the top of the catcher’s market makes a ton of sense based on how this team is built. However, it’s hard to believe that’s what they’ll actually do when looking at recent history. This is definitely a “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” kind of scenario.
So, let’s just hope for the best that there will be a different outcome this time around.