For a guy that many didn’t have a very high opinion of this time last year, Billy Eppler had a very strong year in his first season as the Mets’ GM. But the following quote from Eppler about Francisco Alvarez makes me glad he’s the GM and not the manager.
“As we’re constituted right now, we have Tomas Nido entering arbitration, we have James McCann under contract. How our roster sits right now, and the flexibility that some of the players bring that are on that 26-man roster, we could carry three catchers. That’s something that could happen.
“If you did, you’d want to kind of diversify their skillsets a little bit. So if one’s particularly offensive and another one’s particularly defensive, that’s a compliment you could do. So we could carry that largely because of players like [Luis] Guillorme and players like [Jeff] McNeil that can serve multipurpose.”
Source: Colin Martin, SNY
The Mets need to get more offensive production from the catcher’s spot and the easiest way to do that is to have Alvarez getting time there. Now, he doesn’t need to catch 140 games next year. But any configuration where he doesn’t catch at least 50 games means the Mets are putting themselves in a bad position.
There’s little doubt that Alvarez is not as strong defensively as either McCann or Nido. Equally not up for debate is that neither of those two are as strong offensively as Alvarez.
For most of the 20th Century, teams thought it was way more important for a shortstop to be good defensively than it was for him to be a major contributor to the offense. But few believe that here in 2022. Back in 1972, there were 22 shortstops to play at least 100 games and only one – Chris Speier -had an OPS+ in triple digits. Additionally, 13 had an OPS+ below 82, including Bud Harrelson, who posted a woeful 68.
Fast forward 50 years and we see that 14 of the 22 shortstops to play 100 games last year had a triple-digit OPS+ and only four shortstops had an OPS+ beneath 82.
It’s tougher to be a catcher than it is to be a shortstop. But the fact that it’s tougher shouldn’t make writing guys into the lineup with a 72 OPS+ (Nido) or a 55 OPS+ (McCann) 139 times – like what happened for the Mets in 2022 – as catchers an acceptable proposition when you have a backstop with the offensive potential of Mike Piazza hanging around your farm system.
If it was any other position on the field, Alvarez would be the frontrunner with no questions asked. Instead, here we’re proposing that he catch around 1/3 of the games as a way for him to get acclimated to playing the position in the majors.
And the thing that irked me about that quote from Eppler is that how often Alvarez catches should have absolutely nothing to do with the multipurpose ability of Guillorme and McNeil. The primary thing that should matter is the relationships that Alvarez can forge with the starters. Pulling an example out of thin air, if Max Scherzer is not comfortable with Alvarez as his catcher, then someone else should start in his place behind the plate when Scherzer pitches.
The only other consideration should be if Alvarez has throwing issues – and that’s far from a given – he shouldn’t start against teams that aggressively steal bases with their everyday lineup.
It’s not easy for teams to let a 21 year old to be their catcher in any capacity. In the last 50 years, there have only been six seasons where a player that young or younger caught 80 games in the majors. And three of those were by Ivan Rodriguez and two of those were by Butch Wynegar. The other person was Darrell Porter, who put up a 133 OPS+ for the Brewers in 1973 at age 21.
This century there have only been six catchers who caught at least 20 games in their age-21 or younger season, with Brian McCann’s 59 for the 2005 Braves being the highwater mark.
There’s a safety in doing things the way that other teams do. No one will criticize the Mets for not having Alvarez catch a lot at this age because essentially no team does that. But, as with all things, it’s not what other teams do that matters. No, what’s the most important thing is what makes sense for the Mets. And on this team, with two veterans who are offensive sinkholes as their catchers, they should look to find significant playing time for Alvarez, assuming he hits like we all think he will.