It’s hard to believe now but back when the Mets traded R.A. Dickey, the main get was Travis d’Arnaud, who was billed as a star two-way backstop. As a franchise, the Mets have been blessed with some pretty strong catchers throughout the years and it seemed like d’Arnaud was going to take his place along with previous All-Stars Gary Carter, Jerry Grote, Todd Hundley, Paul Lo Duca, Mike Piazza and John Stearns.
But it hasn’t worked out that way at all as d’Arnaud hasn’t been able to stay healthy. And when he has been healthy, the results have been underwhelming, save for the stretch run in 2015. Last year he was healthy in September when the Mets were battling for a Wild Card spot. But he ended up sharing time with Rene Rivera because neither guy was really hitting and Rivera, even with his own defensive shortcomings, did a better job of controlling the running game.
It’s been more of the same for d’Arnaud here in 2017. Yes, there was the completely expected trip to the disabled list in early May. But once he returned after a three-week absence, there just hasn’t been the production we hoped to see, especially considering that he hasn’t missed any time due to injury. In 254 PA since being activated from the DL, he has a .239/.280/.378 line that can only be described as disappointing.
Meanwhile, Kevin Plawecki started the year in the minors. As bad as d’Arnaud was in 2016, Plawecki was worse. He saw some time while d’Arnaud was disabled early on this year but it was just more of the same, as he managed just three hits in 28 trips to the plate. Plawecki soon found himself back in Triple-A but somehow things were different this time around.
What people forget about Plawecki is that while he’s struggled mightily in the majors, he’s never really hit in the top level of the minors, either. But in his second stint with Las Vegas here in 2017, he put up .338/.386/.529 line in 233 PA. That’s an OPS 83 points higher than what he did at the same level in 2016. Finally, he produced numbers worth noticing with the 51s.
Rivera ended up being claimed on waivers by the Cubs and the Mets let him go, opening up a spot for Plawecki. And this time around, he’s actually hitting in the majors, too. In 39 PA since his recall, Plawecki carries an .870 OPS, with four of his 11 hits going for extra bases. It’s a tiny sample, and comes with a .323 BABIP. But it’s still an encouraging thing for a guy who entered this season with a .572 OPS in the majors.
Last year, the Mets ended up giving equal time to d’Arnaud and Rivera in September. But this year, the majority of the playing time should go to Plawecki. You could make the argument that the Mets should run a strict platoon at the position, as d’Arnaud has pounded lefties to a .963 OPS this season and lifetime has a 65-point OPS edge against southpaws.
To me, Plawecki has looked like a guy who could hit when he stepped into the box but the results have just never been there. It’s very possible that this is nothing but a small sample mirage. But hopefully he’ll get in the neighborhood of 75 more PA this season. That still won’t be a very large sample but if Plawecki keeps up an .800+ OPS over the rest of the year, he could leapfrog d’Arnaud in the team’s pecking order.
This offseason will be d’Arnaud’s second year of arbitration eligibility. If Plawecki continues to hit in September, it could make d’Arnaud a non-tender candidate. Last year, it was a no-brainer to retain him as the top backstop at a relatively low $1.875 million. Do the Mets want to pay more than that for him to be their backup at the position? This year, they gave Rivera $1.75 million to be the backup. But Rivera had worked well with Noah Syndergaard and had the reputation of a good defensive backstop.
Will the Mets be willing to pay $2 million for d’Arnaud to be a lefty masher? They gave Wilmer Flores $2.2 million here in 2016 so it’s not out of the question. Surely, the Mets would prefer not to be in the market for a catcher, too, this offseason. They’ll likely be closely watching the output of both of their backstops the final 24 games of the year, hoping at least one turns in a strong finishing kick.