Like Matt Harvey, Devin Mesoraco needed a change of scenery. Both players were first round picks and All Star selections who’d endured a rough couple of seasons due to injuries. The in-season trade made sense for both teams, perhaps even more so in hindsight.
Mesoraco was the Cincinnati Reds’ 15th pick of the first round in 2007 and the second catcher drafted after the super-hyped Matt Wieters (the next Johnny Bench?). Mesoraco was drafted straight out of high school in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (yes, home of the groundhog). The Mets did not have a true first round pick that year, having traded their 29th pick to the Giants, but we did have two supplemental first rounders that we used on the forgettable Eddie Kunz and Nathan Vineyard – both selected before Josh Donaldson (oopsie).
Mesoraco progressed through the Reds’ minor league system and, following a cup of coffee at the end of 2011, was a top ranked prospect – #16 by Baseball America, #14 by Jonathan Mayo. The catcher showed promise in a limited role in 2012 before taking over starting duties in 2013. In 2014, Mesoraco erupted for a huge breakout year and earned an All Star game nod with a .273/.359/.534 slash line, including 50 extra base hits and 80 RBI. Just 26 at the time, Mesoraco seemed poised to join the discussion among best catchers in the league. However, injuries robbed him of most of the next two seasons and then he struggled to bounced back in 2017, slashing just .213/.321/.390. In 2018, the Reds took the opportunity to give Mesoraco a change of scenery and, so far, it seems to have helped.
While he’s shown some pop in the batter’s box for the Mets with eight home runs, Mesoraco’s real value to the team has been behind the plate. Prior to his arrival, the Mets, with Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki both on the disabled list, were deploying a dreadful catching combination of journeyman Jose Lobaton and minor leaguer Tomas Nido. Not only could neither hit a lick, but our starting pitchers didn’t seem to have any comfort level throwing to them. Pitch calls were constantly shaken off, base runners stole at will, and bad pitch calls were resulting in home runs. Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz were struggling and Noah Syndergaard was less than Thor-like. From the moment the Mets brought in Mesoraco, that all changed. The starters found their groove and we got some production out of the catcher’s spot in the batting order too.
So, is Mesoraco more than just a short-term fix? Is the pending free agent summer trade bait or should we consider resigning the barely 30-year-old backstop for 2019 and beyond? Well, let’s look at our options. In house, we have the perpetually injured d’Arnaud who could return next season in his final year of arbitration (or be DFA’d) and the AAAA quality Plawecki who continues to be serviceable behind the plate but has a backup quality bat. Our minor leagues offer two journeyman in AAA – Lobaton and Johnny Monell (famous for having a big spring training a few years ago) and Nido (career minor league BA of .260) and Patrick Mazeika (batting .212 for the Rumble Ponies) up in AA. Surely there must be a catching prospect at high single A St. Lucie, right? Not so much. The three main backstops are all hitting below .250 with three home runs…combined.
At this time, Mesoraco is our best organizational catcher. Now, to be fair, the League isn’t exactly teeming with star catchers these days. In fact, as of this writing, there are 27 catchers with at least 150 at bats, and, offensively, Mesoraco is right in the middle of the pack with a .736 OPS. Plus, several of the guys ahead of him are part-time catchers who get half their at bats as a DH (Evan Gattis, Gary Sanchez) or are defensive liabilities (Gattis, Sanchez, Wilson Ramos).
So, we could do worse than Mesoraco, but what are the upcoming free agent options? Here’s the list from MLB Trade Rumors with ages in parenthesis.
Drew Butera (35)
A.J. Ellis (38)
Tyler Flowers (33)
Yasmani Grandal (30)
Nick Hundley (35)
Jonathan Lucroy (33)
Martin Maldonado (32)
Jeff Mathis (36)
Brian McCann (35)* [$15MM club/player option]
Devin Mesoraco (31)
Miguel Montero (35)
Wilson Ramos (31)
Rene Rivera (35)
Kurt Suzuki (35)
Matt Wieters (33)
Most of these catchers are long in the tooth or not that good. Grandal stands out, but are the Dodgers really going to let him walk? J.T. Realmuto continues to maybe be available in trade, but the Marlins have reportedly been asking for a king’s ransom. Rightfully so, as the 27-year-old is a terrific backstop, leads all with a .904 OPS and still has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining. The latest rumors have the Marlins discussing an extension with Realmuto.
Given the dearth of alternatives and the Mets pitchers’ comfort level with him, perhaps that’s what we should be doing with Mesoraco.