Ever since the Mets acquired Travis d’Arnaud this winter, it’s been all but certain that he would start the 2013 season in AAA Las Vegas. The reason d’Arnaud appeared ticketed for AAA had nothing to do with his health or talent. Instead, it revolved around the fact that the Mets could guarantee an extra year of team control over d’Arnaud if he spent the first 20 days of the season in the minor leagues.
Keeping top prospects down in order to guarantee an extra year of control is common, and is a strategy most teams utilize. With it being widely accepted that d’Arnaud wouldn’t be coming north with the team on April 1st, it seemed odd when the Mets didn’t send him to minor league camp yesterday. Here’s why (courtesy of Adam Rubin):
The Mets, like other major league teams, must ship out prospects on the 40-man roster by Friday if they want to minimize the risk to the organization. Generally, if 40-man-roster players remaining in major league camp become injured within 15 days of Opening Day, they earn major league service time and pay and have to land on the disabled list to open the season until they heal. So players such as [Travis] d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores, who are on the 40-man roster but not likely to make the Opening Day roster, should be dispatched to minor league camp by Friday.
Rubin wrote the above piece on Wednesday. Friday passed, and d’Arnaud remained in major league camp (while Wilmer Flores was sent down). As Rubin noted above, if a 40-man roster player gets injured within 15 days of the first game of the season and ends up on the disabled list, that player would receive both major league pay and accrue service time.
d’Arnaud is both still around and active. He got the start this afternoon and caught seven innings. If he’s destined to open the year in AAA, it makes little sense for the Mets to take the risk they’re currently taking. So, why is d’Arnaud still in major league camp?
There are two theories. The first is that the Mets still fully intend to dispatch d’Arnaud to AAA before the season, but they want to keep him in major league camp to continue to get comfortable with the pitchers who will be on the Mets when he eventually arrives after April 20th.
The second theory is this:
Thursday night, David Wright was scratched from the Team USA lineup minutes before their WBC game was about to begin. It was revealed yesterday that Wright has a moderately strained left intercostal muscle, and that he’s been shut down for 3 to 5 days. His status for Opening Day is unclear. He may be ready, he may not be.
As Mets Police recently noted, the Mets are having severe trouble selling tickets for Opening Day. Regardless of what the team is saying publicly, it appears that there will be thousands of empty seats at Citi Field when the Mets open the season against the Padres on April 1st. As Shannon pointed out in his article for Mets Police, he was able to find 12 seats together in pretty much every section of Citi Field for Opening Day – and that was before Wright’s status was in question.
After taking the above into account, I can think of why Travis d’Arnaud is still in major league camp. The answer is that the Mets are now considering having him on the Opening Day roster in the event David Wright isn’t ready. There are two reasons why that makes sense for the Mets:
The first, is that without Wright, the offense would be significantly weakened. d’Arnaud, even as a rookie, would add some punch to the lineup. The second reason (and the one I think the Mets would be basing their decision on) is the fact that without Wright, fan interest in Opening Day would shrink dramatically. Ticket sales would continue to sag, and Opening Day would most likely be viewed by most fans not as a celebration of the return of the Mets, but as an excuse to complain about the team’s deficiencies. How could the Mets change the narrative? Turn Opening Day into the beginning of a new era by having Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate.
The above is speculation. I don’t have any inside knowledge. Personally, I wouldn’t be in favor of the Mets having d’Arnaud on the roster for Opening Day. What can’t be argued, is that it’s very strange that d’Arnaud is still in big league camp. Unless the Mets are considering having d’Arnaud at Citi Field on April 1st, it makes absolutely no sense that they haven’t yet sent him to minor league camp.
This article could be rendered moot in a matter of hours or days if the Mets send d’Arnaud down. However, the longer he stays in big league camp, the more one should wonder about the reasoning behind it, and whether or not the Mets are considering carrying him on the big league roster from day one.