Y’know, twenty years ago, the Mets had a problem. They were a team with a lot of potential and some outstanding players: John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzoand Al Leiter come to mind. They had staunch defense, anchored by young Rey Ordonez, spectacular at shortstop. They had the vaunted “veteran presence” in the lineup with Carlos Baerga and Bernard Gilkey. New manager Bobby Valentine had brought the Mets home with a surprising 88-win 1997 season. Hopes were high at the start of ’98. Oh, and they had an All-Star catcher behind the plate, Todd Hundley. Herein lay the problem. Hundley ended the 1997 season needing reconstructive surgery on his elbow. He would miss half the season. That would leave the Mets’ catching in shambles to start the year. They started the year by rotating Tim Spehr (career OPS .657), Alberto Castillo (.590) and career backup Todd Pratt (.741). With the other assets on the roster, the team was able to bump along to May 22, posting a record of 24-20. Why did I pick that date? That’s the date they fixed the catching for good, making the famous trade for Mike Piazza. From that date forward, with a Hall-of-Famer behind the dish, the Mets went 64-54, just missing out on a Wild Card spot due to a late-season slump. The catching situation had been resolved.
Fast-forward to 2018. The Mets’ projected catching platoon of Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki started out semi-decently, if unspectacularly. The hitting was subject to the usual April vicissitudes, but generally OK. The defense wasn’t good. That lasted eleven games. On April 11, it was announced that d’Arnaud had a torn ACL in his throwing elbow and may need Tommy John surgery. That night, Plawecki was cracked in the hand by a Tayron Guerrero fastball. Initially, x-rays came back negative, but two days later, an MRI revealed that a bone had been broken and Plawecki would be on the self for at least three weeks. Their replacements – veteran Jose Lobaton and young Tomas Nido – have made us pine for the days of Tim Spehr, Alberto Castillo and Todd Pratt. Nido and Lobaton are billed as what’s called “defense-first” catchers. Defense-first – an appellation that fits for any position, a kinder way of saying “The guy can’t hit.” All recent evidence indicates Nido and Lobaton can’t play defense, either. The Mets now sit at 15-7 and feeling like a strong contender for a post-season slot. They cannot continue with this catching situation if they expect to get there.
As has been noted elsewhere, there are some good alternatives out there. It is now up to GM Sandy Alderson and the rest of the front office to come up with a solution that enhances the Mets’ chances at this year’s post-season without crippling their prospects of same in the near future. Of course, now isn’t the time to panic about it and make a rash overpayment for a backstop; there’s not a Piazza out there, but something clearly has to give. You simply cannot run a lineup with two guaranteed outs in it and expect to compete with the Washington Nationals or hold off the Philadelphia Phillies or Atlanta Braves.
May 22 isn’t that far away.
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