Despite general manger Brodie Van Wagenen publicly saying he feels good about the New York Mets’ catching situation, the club could use an upgrade. That’s why he’s been poking around in both the free-agent and trade markets to see what’s potentially available.
Some of the names linked to New York have mostly been free agents: Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos, and Martin Maldonado. A trade target that could change the current incumbent duo of Kevin Plawecki and Travis d’Arnaud is Yan Gomes of the Cleveland Indians. While the original report from SNY’s Andy Martino mentions the chances of expanding to a deal that could include more players, the basis of these conversations is pretty obvious.
The Mets need help at catcher, and although the Indians still have a chance to be competitive in 2019, they’re looking for ways to shed salary. Other teams are engaging Cleveland in discussions on Gomes, but it’s not as if it’d take a huge prospect package to make something happen. If talks do advance any deeper, the potential benefit of bringing the backstop to Queens are also clear.
Solid Behind the Plate
Mostly led by Plawecki and Devin Mesoraco, Mets catchers produced the second-worst defensive rating (6.5) and sixth-worst fWAR (0.4) in baseball last year. Gomes bested both of those numbers all by himself (8.0 and 2.2, respectively), but his value behind the plate goes further than that.
When looking at Baseball Prospectus’ catcher framing stats, he checked in as one of the league’s top 15 backstops this past season. This isn’t just a one-year anomaly, either — he finished in the top 20 in the same category in 2017. Gomes also caught 29.0% of would-be base stealers in 2018, ranking eighth-best among qualified catchers.
For a team built on strong starting pitching, these are two areas where a catcher could really make an impact, and it’s something Mets catchers have lacked.
A Level of Familiarity
Getting to know each pitcher on a staff is a tall task for any catcher switching teams. However, the majority of Gomes’ career also coincided with Mickey Callaway‘s time as Cleveland’s pitching coach, which we noted here. That level of familiarity could make the potential adjustment period a lot easier than normal.
Callaway obviously hasn’t worked with him since 2017, but he still knows how Gomes operates and how he likes to consume data and information. The skipper could give him the 411 on New York’s pitching staff in an efficient manner before he sits down to actually get to know each of the pitchers he’d be receiving baseballs from.
He Can Hit!
When using wRC+ as the barometer, there were only five MLB teams who received above-average offensive production from the catching position in 2018. Having a catcher (or a group of catchers) not be an offensive asset isn’t uncommon, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.
The Mets’ catching corps slashed .202/.289/.353 last year, which produced a .281 wOBA and 79 wRC+. Gomes, on the other hand, was head-and-shoulders better than anyone New York penciled into the lineup. Through 435 plate appearances, he hit .266/.313/.449 with 16 home runs, 48 RBI, and 52 runs scored. That led to a 101 wRC+ and .326 wOBA.
It is worth noting, though, that this was Gomes’ first above-average offensive campaign since 2014. In the three years between these occurrences (1,036 plate appearances), he posted a .215/.266/.377 line with 35 homers and 135 RBI to go along with just a .277 wOBA and 67 wRC+.
Which Yan Gomes would the Mets be getting: the guy with solid defensive skills and league-average offense or the one that didn’t appear to hold a bat in his hands when he stepped into the batter’s box?
One encouraging change from this past year was a drastic improvement in quality of contact. After three consecutive years of posting a hard-hit rate below 30.0%, that number settled in at 43.2% for Gomes in 2018, a new single-season career high. He also paired that with a 13.9% soft-hit rate, which is also a career-best mark (and a huge change from 2017’s rate of 21.7%).
Gomes has consistently hit fly balls at or around a 40.0% clip, but his ground-ball rate had been steadily increasing since 2015. This category also went through a significant change this past year, as his 31.7% grounder rate was easily the lowest it’s ever been. Most of this change went straight to his line-drive rate, which was a career-high 27.2%. He’s posted a line-drive rate in that neighborhood in the past (in ’14 and ’15), but it’d also be unrealistic to expect it to stay this high. That would also mean a negative regression in BABIP, which was .336 this year (he owns a .298 career mark).
Even with the potential for regression, he’d be an upgrade. Five Mets catchers (19 homers) barely out-homered him, and Gomes’ power has been back since the start of 2017, as he’s combined to hit 30 dingers in 818 plate appearances.
Affordable With Some Flexibility
The Indians inked Gomes to a six-year, $23 million deal in advance of the 2014 season. The final guaranteed year of his contract is 2019, when he’s due to earn $7 million. Not only is that salary easy to absorb on a payroll, it leaves plenty of flexibility because of the two club options included for 2020 ($9 million) and 2021 ($11 million).
If the Mets acquire him and it doesn’t work out, all they’d be on the hook for is a $1 million to buy out his option. If the acquisition seems to be working, they can extend it for one more year before making a decision on the second option. This potential move would give the Mets some short-term certainty from a player that’s put together multiple years of solid production, while also providing a safety net for the next few seasons.
The only real question moving forward will be the other interested suitors the Mets might have to compete with to get a deal done.