The New York Mets have an interesting situation going on at the catching position. James McCann disappointed after signing a four-year contract, pitchers love throwing to framing savant Tomas Nido, and dynamic prospect Francisco Alvarez is on the horizon, even though he still has a little more developing to do.
So how exactly should the Mets handle their catching situation this season?
First let’s discuss McCann. After signing a four-year, $40M contract through 2024, he struggled mightily at the plate to the tune of .232/.294/.349/.643 with just 10 homers, 46 RBI’s, and a 77 OPS+. He did not play well defensively either, posting -6 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and ranking in the 41st percentile in framing.
Tomas Nido has been a great backup catcher for a couple of years now. His bat doesn’t offer much (.222/.244/.322/.566), but his defense has become elite. Last season, he posted 10 DRS and led the majors in pitch framing. He is especially adept at framing the pitches that just miss the zone laterally, successfully framing pitches that miss into right-handed hitters 64.7% of the time, and even more on the outside corner at 80%.
Looking at their projections for next season, McCann is expected to bounce back a bit, with a .710 OPS and 14 homers. However, he is expected to see a slight decrease in at-bats, while Nido is expected to see an increase. Obviously this is because of his defense, but his offense is expected to take a step forward with a .658 OPS and eight homers.
The projections are in line with my thoughts: Tomas Nido needs more playing time.
At some point, Major League Baseball will have robot umpires, but until then, framing is very important. There’s a reason that elite pitchers like Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard want Nido behind the dish: he’s really freaking good at making borderline pitches look like strikes. That makes a difference throughout the course of a game, much more than McCann’s marginally-better bat. If I’m the Mets, not only does Nido become deGrom’s personal catcher, he gets the majority of starts.
McCann has shown that he can be a great catcher, but his steeply declining offense is troubling, and as he ages, everything will just get worse. I like the leadership he brings to this team, but that’s his biggest asset right now. And that’s not worth $40M.
Looking ahead, with Alvarez potentially being ready for a call up in late 2023 or early 2024, this creates a problem. Alvarez is the automatic starter when he comes up, thanks to his thunderous power that will immediately put him among the best offensive catchers in the game. It’s unlikely that the Mets would be able to trade McCann because of his big contract as he ages, but once robot umpires are implemented and Nido’s value goes down, it will be more difficult to move him too. It remains to be seen how the Mets will handle their backup catching situation once Alvarez comes up.
For now, they just need to let Nido do his thing behind the dish.