There are multiple solutions to every problem in baseball. My belief is that the first problem that the Mets should look to solve is the bullpen. My solution is to sign Craig Kimbrel and whatever solid free agent reliever is left in late January. But you could sign Jeurys Familia and David Robertson and that could work nicely. Or you could sign Andrew Miller and two other solid guys and have that work out, as well.
Some think that the biggest problem on the Mets is catcher. You may or may not agree but the same principle applies there, too. J.T. Realmuto for 2019 and 2020 – and possibly a qualifying offer for 2021 – at a reasonable trade price would be the ideal solution. But if he repeats his 2018 season, the outcry from the fanbase – and no doubt some people internally – to sign him to a long-term deal would be overwhelming.
People will argue that since he’ll only be entering his age 30 season that he’ll be fine for a long-term deal. But catchers don’t age well and even the ones who continue to play at 33 and above will frequently require time at another position, like Joe Mauer or Brian McCann. Speaking of McCann, let’s look at his history.
A free agent following his age 29 season, the Yankees signed him to a five-year, $85 million deal plus an option year. According to the FanGraphs Dollar Values (which had Jacob deGrom worth over $70 million this year), McCann returned $69.1 million over his five years, which ended after 2018. And that was playing fewer than 100 games at catcher the final three seasons, including 62 games – 55 starts – in 2018.
There’s too big of a chance for a double whammy in signing a catcher in his 30s to a multi-year deal. The first is that he won’t be worth what you’re paying him and the second is that he won’t be able to play the position and you have to play him at a spot that overwhelms his bat and then put an even more inferior bat behind the plate.
And before you say, Yadier Molina, here’s how the Cardinals’ catcher has done, with the first number being his age and the second number being his fWAR total:
28 – 4.2
29 – 6.1
30 – 5.5
31 – 2.9
32 – 1.5
33 – 2.6
34 – 2.0
35 – 2.2
Molina exceeded his contract value because he gave the Cardinals a hometown discount. While McCann was getting $17 million per year and Mauer was pulling down $23 million per, Molina got three years at $14 million and two at $15 million. And his big contract covered his age 30 season, the last big year of his career. The big success story saw a significant dropoff from age 30 to 31 and then a smaller dropoff from 31 to the rest of his deal.
And what are the odds that Realmuto gives the Mets a hometown discount?
Plus, what do you pay to get him? MetsBlog speculates that their top three prospects wouldn’t be enough to get it done if other teams rumored to be interested get involved in the bidding. That seems like a pretty big overpay to me. My offer would be Justin Dunn, David Peterson (two first-round picks) and a lower-level infielder not named Ronny Mauricio. That’s two top 10 prospects and a lottery pick of sorts for two years of an impact catcher.
So, if not Realmuto, then who do they get? There are two interesting free agent options in Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos. Either of those guys are potential fits. But Grandal is coming off a poor postseason and turned down the qualifying offer extended him by the Dodgers, so he enters free agency with visions of a big payday. And Ramos has been hurt. FanGraphs’ Median Crowdsource, published November 5, has Grandal getting 3/$45 and Ramos at 3/$36. Both catchers are already in their 30s and if the Mets choose to go this route, my hope is they look for a two-year deal.
We’ve heard that new GM Brodie Van Wagenen is going to bring a new and different way of looking at things. And one thing that would certainly qualify as a different – not new – way would be to open 2019 the way they ended 2018, with three catchers. Down the stretch, the Mets gave starts to Devin Mesoraco, Tomas Nido and Kevin Plawecki. They could bring back Mesoraco at a much lower rate than what either Grandal or Ramos would get and have that trio again.
The Mets’ strength is their starting pitching and each of those three backstops did strong work with at least one of the club’s starters. Mesoraco caught the majority of deGrom’s starts and his ERA was 80 points better with Mesoraco than with Plawecki or essentially the difference between deGrom and Max Scherezer. But Plawecki got the best work out of Zack Wheeler, as in 11 starts with Plawecki behind the plate, Wheeler limited batters to a .515 OPS and a 1.88 ERA. And Nido, though he showed very little with the bat, got by far the best results from Noah Syndergaard. Nido (11 starts) got a 1.97 ERA with Syndergaard on the hill, compared to Plawecki (8), who got a 4.60 ERA and Mesoraco (5), who got a 3.21 mark.
Are any of these samples big enough? Perhaps not. But certainly Mickey Callaway thought there was something to it. At the absolute least, my hope is that Van Wagenen asks Callaway if he would be comfortable with this three-headed monster for an entire season. And if he was, that would open up more money for help in the bullpen or adding an impact bat elsewhere.
With seven and eight-man bullpens, a third catcher has gone the way of the dodo. But if the Mets get more innings from their top starters, they could go with a (gasp!) six-man pen. Or they could go with four outfielders, with the idea of carrying an infielder who could at least fake it in the outfield for a few innings at a time.
So, there are plenty of options for the Mets at catcher. And if none of the above are palatable for you, both Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Wieters are out there, too. Both of those guys had very vocal supporters who wanted the Mets to sign them to long-term, big buck deals in the very recent past. And both of those guys can be had now on a one-year deal, perhaps even an NRI.