What does the New York Mets signing of Wilson Ramos mean for incumbent catchers Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki?
In case you missed it, the New York Mets have entered into an agreement with free agent catcher Wilson Ramos. In one fell swoop, the Mets were able to address two areas of need. Ramos upgrades the organization behind the plate and adds a potent right-handed batter to balance their lineup.
But what does this mean for the current catching duo under contract?
A quick glance at the Mets catching depth chart reveals a logjam they’ll need to address in the coming months. According to SNY’s Andy Martino, the Mets currently plan to hold onto Travis d’Arnaud as the backup to Ramos and dangle Kevin Plawecki in a trade.
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Plawecki saw the most appearances behind the plate for the Mets in 2018, catching 71 games. The Mets lost d’Arnaud for the year to a partially torn UCL in his right elbow in April that required Tommy John surgery. He was limited to just 4 games.
Both players have disappointed so far in Queens. Offensively, Plawecki left much to be desired in 2018. He slashed a paltry .215/.215/.370 and caught 79 games, throwing out a below average 23% of baserunners. Per Baseball Prospectus, Plawecki ranked 101 out of 117 qualified catchers with a -4.6 runs framing statistic. In 2017, d’Arnaud’s healthiest season where he appeared in 112 games, he produced a .244/.293/.735 line while throwing out a meager 17% of baserunners.
It was clear from the beginning Brodie Van Wagenen sought to upgrade their catching options. It is unlikely all three catchers remain on the 2019 Opening Day roster, with Tomás Nido likely to figure into the mix as well.
The interest in retaining d’Arnaud as the backup is surprising. It’s difficult to bring up d’Arnaud without discussing the seemingly endless injury struggles he’s had. Ramos himself has a lengthy injury history too, including two torn ACL’s. Rolling the dice with two oft-injured catchers seems like a risky play for the Mets.
When they decided to tender d’Arnaud a contract earlier in the offseason, many were surprised. His projected salary for 2019 is at $3.7 million. For reference, disavowing Brian McCann’s $17 million as an outlier in the final year of his bloated contract, the highest paid backup catcher in the MLB last year was Tyler Flowers, who made $4.3 million while catching 76 games for the Atlanta Braves.
Assuming things go as planned for the Mets in 2019, d’Arnaud will not be catching 76 games. $3.7 million for a backup catcher, without a true strength on either side of the ball, could prove tough for the front office to swallow.
Despite tendering him a contract, the Mets can cut d’Arnaud in Spring Training, and only be on the hook for fraction of his contract. It won’t become guaranteed unless he is on the 25-man roster when the season begins.
Although he’s been disappointing given his performance in the minor leagues, Plawecki has managed to stay on the field at a better rate than d’Arnaud. It might bode them well to put a strong track record of health into their backup catcher position, especially with Ramos recently turning 31.
More than likely, if they cannot find a suitable deal for Plawecki, both catchers will enter Spring Training in an intriguing position battle, and force the team in Flushing into a difficult decision.
Something that hasn’t been spoken of yet, but I would like to see them explore, is to seek a cheaper defensive backup. Late game defensive replacements can help keep Ramos fresh and ideally healthy for the long and arduous season.
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It’ll be interesting to see how the Mets catching depth chart looks when Opening Day rolls around, but as of now, it appears the Mets look ready to ride with Ramos and d’Arnaud as their top options.