John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Why is it that the more Brodie Van Wagenen insists Travis d'Arnaud could still be a big part of the Mets' catching solution, the more I think of Bubba Crosby.
For the most part, Van Wagenen has made a good early impression in his transition from agent to the Mets' front office, and falling into GM-speak is to be expected, but one thing fans don't want to hear is that all is well on the catching front.
Yet the new GM has spoken excitedly of d'Arnaud's potential, even coming off Tommy John surgery, as if the last five seasons hadn't already happened.
By now anyone paying attention should know the idea of counting on d'Arnaud to stay healthy is one mistake, and the notion that he will ever turn his flashes of offensive production into consistency is another.
Beyond that, the Mets have always had issues with d'Arnaud's game-calling, and indeed they haven't made the pitcher-catcher dynamic enough of a priority, considering how important pitching is to their success.
The thing is, I have to believe Van Wagenen is well aware of all of this, which brings us back to Bubba Crosby.
He's the journeyman outfielder, you might remember, who Brian Cashman rather famously insisted would be the Yankees center fielder for a long-time in the 2005 off-season -- right up until he signed free agent Johnny Damon in late-December, surprising absolutely no one.
For the Mets it's not as clear which free-agent catcher is their Johnny Damon in this scenario, though Wilson Ramos would be an obvious, if expensive choice, while Martin Maldonado would offer strong defense and behind-the-plate presence that is needed.
At the very least, however, fans have to trust that even Van Wagnenen didn't believe what he said as he departed the GM Meetings in Carlsbad, California:
"I think we are in the fortunate position that we don't have to do something in the catching market," he said Thursday, adding that d'Arnaud was "doing well" from a rehab standpoint. "We will continue to be talking to free agents at that position and others and also exploring trades, but right now I don't feel like we have to. We can go into camp right now feeling confident that we have that position covered."
Now, if any GM knows how the game is played with agents it's Van Wagenen, so perhaps he thinks such posturing is necessary in trying to get the player he wants at the best price.
I have to believe that's the plan, because even before the new GM was hired, others in the Mets' front office were making it clear that upgrading the catching situation was a necessity.
D'Arnaud aside, even strong supporters of Kevin Plawecki amongst the Mets' brass now admit he should only be in the plans as a backup.
And while the Mets could use any offense they can get from the position, the need for a thinking man's catcher behind the plate became all the more obvious with the acquisition of Devin Mesoraco in the Matt Harvey trade last summer.
Mesoraco's preparation and in-game intensity behind the plate energized the Mets' pitchers, to the point where Jacob deGrom practically formed a partnership with him in his quest for the Cy Young Award.
However, Mesoraco's history of injuries, which included a neck problem that kept him out of some of deGrom's games down the stretch, is such that the Mets don't seem interested in re-signing him as a free agent. But that level of game-calling is what they need.
And while deGrom likes to think his way through his starts, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, and to some degree Noah Syndergaard have always said they preferred leaving the pitch-calling to the catcher, allowing them to concentrate on executing pitches.
Of course, pitchers are always willing to sacrifice defense behind the plate for a guy who will hit a three-run home run for them. And while Ramos isn't Mike Piazza, he's one of the best offensive catchers in the game, and figures to be pursued by several teams.
That's why Maldonado might be the more likely signing. The 32-year old was acquired by the pitching-rich Astros during the stretch run last year, which speaks to his reputation for being strong defensively.
He doesn't hit much, as his .225 average and .627 OPS this past season indicate, but Maldonaldo led the majors by throwing out 49 percent of base-stealers. And that's no small factor, considering the problems the Mets -- especially Syndergaard and Matz -- have had with the running game.
Yasmani Grandal is another option, and he has a strong bat, hitting 24 home runs for the Dodgers last season, but he had such problems defensively in the postseason that Dave Roberts finally sat him down in favor of Austin Barnes.
As much as they need offense, the Mets don't need to take that gamble. Simply put, pitching is their strength, so defense has to be the priority behind the plate.
Surely Van Wagenen knows all of this every bit as much as Cashman once knew Bubba Crosby was never going to be his center fielder. No matter what he might be saying.