The New York Mets nearly left Miami with no catchers after Travis d’Arnaud was diagnosed with a partial UCL tear and Kevin Plawecki left the game after being hit on his left hand with a pitch. While d’Arnaud may need to go under the knife, potentially ending his season, Plawecki dodged a bullet by not breaking any bones in his hand. The off day should allow Plawecki to catch for the Mets when they return home against Milwaukee on Friday, and he should get plenty of opportunities to break in his gear going forward.
The Mets entered the season planning to platoon d’Arnaud and Plawecki, and the idea made a ton of sense. d’Arnaud is a player notorious for being injury prone, so splitting time between him and Plawecki would allow both players to stay fresh. The Mets tried this idea in meaningless games last September and both players hit well, adding credence to the idea that a platoon would be more cost effective than signing a free agent like Jonathan Lucroy. Each player offered a contrast in styles as well, with d’Arnaud more of an offensive catcher with power while Plawecki was regarded as the superior defender with more of a contact stroke.
With d’Arnaud potentially done for the year, the Mets now have to rely on Plawecki to get the bulk of the starts behind the plate for the near future. They have been down this road before, notably in 2015 when d’Arnaud got hurt early in the season, but Plawecki was rushed to the majors and wasn’t ready for the assignment then. Plawecki appeared to turn a corner last season, hitting .303 in the second half after a strong showing for Triple-A Las Vegas, but is off to just a 3 for 20 start this season.
The Mets need Plawecki to play well because, frankly, there isn’t much depth in the organization behind him. Tomas Nido was recalled when d’Arnaud landed on the DL yesterday, and while he has an intriguing future due to his excellent defensive skills the Mets can’t count on Nido to be their starter right now. The other catcher at Triple-A is veteran Jose Lobaton, who figures to get promoted if d’Arnaud does require surgery. Lobaton isn’t on the 40 man roster, but the Mets can clear a spot for him by placing d’Arnaud on the 60 day disabled list.
In the short term, the Mets can probably live with Plawecki getting the bulk of the playing time while being supplemented by either Lobaton or Nido. The Mets’ 10-1 start is a major help in that regard, and if they can keep building up their win total this month it will buy them time to assess their options. The best case scenario is that Plawecki hits at least .240 while giving them good defense, but if that doesn’t happen the Mets may need to add a veteran backstop if they remain in contention by the trade deadline.
The trade market should have several viable options for teams in need of catchers. Lucroy, who ended up signing a one year contract with Oakland over the winter, will likely be available when the A’s conduct their annual sell off. Another good fit could be Tampa Bay Rays’ catcher Wilson Ramos, who is in the final year of his deal and should be closer to his old form after missing significant time last year due to a knee injury. The Mets could also explore a deal for Russell Martin if the Toronto Blue Jays fall out of the race, but they would have to take on a significant portion of his $20 million salary for 2019, a prospect that doesn’t look too appealing with Martin in his age 35 season.
Since the options out there aren’t that great, the Mets really do need Plawecki to step up and give the team a serviceable performance behind the plate. The Mets’ deep lineup should be able to withstand a catcher that is relatively light hitting, so if Plawecki can just get on base at a reasonable clip and call a good game everything should work out. If Plawecki goes back to his pre-summer 2017 form and hits below the interstate, the Mets could have a big problem on their hands.