Ever since Paul Lo Duca held the catching spot down in 2006 and 2007, the Mets have been searching for a consistent presence behind the plate who is above average on both sides of the ball.
This is not just a Mets thing — it’s not easy to develop or acquire catchers who are above average offensively and defensively. But the Mets have struggled in a big way over the last 13 years when it comes to their catching situation.
Travis d’Arnaud (who is now starring for the Atlanta Braves) showed glimpses from 2014 to 2017, but couldn’t stay on the field due to a litany of injuries. And while the Mets might rue the day they DFA’d him, they can’t undo that mistake.
Instead, the Mets will likely head into the offseason with the need to find a catcher near the top of their to-do list — if not the very top.
Wilson Ramos, who had a solid year offensively in 2019 after signing as a free agent, had a terrible year in 2020, hitting .239/.297/.387 while playing subpar defense.
Ramos, whose defense and pitch-framing was an issue in 2019 — with Noah Syndergaard among those displeased — was unable to improve in those areas in 2020. He is simply not mobile enough to be even average behind the plate at this point in his career, despite any efforts he’s made to fix those shortcomings.
What the Mets have going for them heading into 2021
New York holds a $10 million option on Ramos for the 2021 season that contains a $1.5 million buyout, and it will be one of the biggest surprises ever if they don’t use that buyout.
So it’s fair to say that Ramos’ time in Queens is over.
The Mets also hold a $6.5 million option (or $1 million buyout) on Robinson Chirinos. And it’s hard to see them exercising that option.
On the 40-man roster, Tomas Nido, Ali Sanchez, and Patrick Mazeika could all be in the Mets’ plans for 2021, but none of them profile as a starting catcher now or in the future.
It’s possible that Nido, Sanchez, or Mazeika could emerge and become a reliable backup — and that has value. But the Mets will need to look elsewhere for their starter.
Francisco Alvarez, an 18-year-old who is one of the top prospects in the Mets’ farm system and a top 100 prospect in baseball, has the makings of a two-way star behind the plate. But we’re probably looking at around 2023 for the big league debut of Alvarez.
Free agent options
There is only one.
In actuality, there are 16 catchers who will almost certainly hit free agency. But 15 of them are varying levels of flawed. And none of them will fix what is ailing the Mets.
Then there’s J.T. Realmuto.
At 29 years old (he’ll turn 30 next March 18), Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball by a wide margin.
Realmuto has become a star over the last three seasons, hitting .274/.336/.489 for the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies. He eclipsed 20 homers in both 2018 and 2019 and hit 11 in 47 games during the shortened 2020 season.
An elite defender, Realmuto was in the 95th percentile in 2020 when it came to pitch-framing and led the majors in pop time in 2019. Pop time is the time it takes a ball to travel from the moment it hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment it hits an infielder’s glove during a stolen base attempt.
Realmuto is also known for developing strong relationships with his pitchers, which would be enormous for a Mets rotation that will be headed by Jacob deGrom, contains a young David Peterson who will be entering his first full season in the majors, and should get Noah Syndergaard back at some point in 2021.
So how exactly do the Mets fix the catching situation?
Sign Realmuto. Really. Just sign him.
As explained here, the Mets — under prospective new owner Steve Cohen – should not simply throw money at every top free agent. But they should be aggressive when it comes to addressing their biggest needs. And that means going all-out to land Realmuto, who could be a true difference-maker.
The Mets of the recent past have been reluctant to offer more than four years to free agents, and it will likely take an offer of at least five years to reel in Realmuto. But unless the bidding gets truly nuts (think seven years or more), the Mets should be prepared to outbid all others.
In the event Realmuto needs to move from behind the plate down the line, he’s athletic enough to do so. And by that point, the Mets could have his heir apparent (Alvarez) ready to step in.