Kevin Plawecki Injury Changes The New York Mets’ Equation At Catcher

MLB: New York Mets at Miami Marlins

The New York Mets’ good injury luck didn’t last too long after all. Just a day after announcing that X-Rays on Kevin Plawecki’s left hand came back negative, further tests revealed a hairline fracture in the hand. Plawecki doesn’t need surgery, which is a positive development since that would have sidelined him for several months, but the Mets will still be without his services for 3-4 weeks. The Mets are already without Travis d’Arnaud for the remainder of the season after he opted to undergo Tommy John surgery, so the team’s current catching depth chart is unproven Tomas Nido and veteran journeyman Jose Lobaton.

With Plawecki on the shelf, here are the options the Mets have to address the position going forward:

Kevin Plawecki Injury Changes The New York Mets' Equation At Catcher
Apr 11, 2018; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets catcher Kevin Plawecki (26) reacts after being hit by a pitch in the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins during a MLB game at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Stick With What They Have:

The Mets could theoretically platoon Nido and Lobaton if they believe that Plawecki will be back within a month. Nido is the better defender, having thrown out 45% of base runners with AA Binghamton last season, but his offensive potential is questionable at this stage of his career. Lobaton is what he is, a career backup who is capable of a little pop every now and then but one with a lot of big league experience. The Mets’ 11-1 start could buy them some time to try this pair, but General Manager Sandy Alderson described his comfort in the current catchers at a press conference yesterday as good for the “very short term”. Given that sentiment from the GM, this option seems unlikely for more than a week or two.

Sign A Veteran Free Agent:

The Mets resisted signing free agent Jonathan Lucroy over the winter, a move they may regret now given 20/20 hindsight, but there are still a lot of veteran catchers that are unsigned. The most notable name out there is 39 year old Carlos Ruiz, who hit .216 in 54 games for the Seattle Mariners a year ago. Ruiz is a winning player, however, and his experience behind the plate could help the Mets’ young pitching staff. Other noteworthy free agents include Geovany Soto, Ryan Hanigan, former All Star Derek Norris (who is dealing with a domestic violence issue), and former Met Josh Thole. The Mets did bring back Johnny Monell on a minor league deal, although that was likely to add depth to the Triple-A level. Signing someone from this list to a minor league deal remains a possibility, but that player would likely need at least a week of minor league games to prep for big league action.

Trade For A Catcher:

The third possibility involves trading for a catcher, something that doesn’t usually happen this early in the season. Alderson did note in his press conference that several teams “aren’t trying that hard” to win and may be more motivated to deal. Three teams that fit this description are the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, and Cincinnati Reds, all of whom have catchers that could be had in a trade. The Marlins hold the biggest fish in J.T. Realmuto, but the price tag for him will be extremely high, especially for Miami to trade him within the division. Realmuto is also on the disabled list right now with a back issue, so he can’t be an immediate help to the Mets.

Tampa Bay could offer veteran (and former Met killer) Wilson Ramos, who is off to a slow start this season, batting .176 in his first full year back from knee surgery. Ramos is due roughly $10.5 million in 2018 before he hits free agency, so the cost to obtain him should be low if the Mets are willing to pick up most of his salary. The Reds could dangle Devin Mesoraco, who was an All Star back in 2014, when he batted .273 with 25 homers and 80 RBI’s. That season earned Mesoraco a four year contract extension worth $28 million, but hip injuries have wrecked his career since then, limiting Mesoraco to just 95 games over the past three years. Mesoraco has since been surpassed by Tucker Barnhart on the Reds’ depth chart, and like Ramos he could be obtained for very little if the Mets were willing to absorb his 2018 salary.

Fortunately, the Mets’ strong start to the season has bought Alderson time to assess his options. The Mets are already six games in front of their presumed top competition in the National League East, the Washington Nationals, including a seven game buffer in the loss column. The two teams meet again at Citi Field on Monday, and if the Mets are able to win that series it could create an even bigger lead and margin for error. The Mets’ offense is clicking at the moment, so they may look to prioritize defense and the ability to handle a pitching staff out of their catchers until Plawecki is ready to return. Even if Plawecki is able to come back by mid-May, the Mets may be looking at upgrading this position by the trade deadline.

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