Alderson paused, considered, then answered.
“I expect a significant upgrade in catcher,” Alderson said. “From a performance standpoint, that’s what we expect.”
Alderson’s insinuation is that Travis d’Arnaud — who has never enjoyed a full, healthy big league season — will finally become a rock for the Mets. The front office bet on that to such an extent this offseason that it never pursued Wieters, the top free-agent catcher on the market, or Wilson Ramos, who signed with the Rays. Instead, New York allocated its money elsewhere, relying on the idea of d’Arnaud as a key contributor.
There is reason for the Mets’ faith. As recently as 2015, d’Arnaud posted an .825 OPS with 12 home runs in just 67 games, providing glimpses of what once made him one of baseball’s top prospects. He hit three home runs in 14 postseason games that year.
But d’Arnaud struggled last season, missing time with a right rotator cuff strain — just the latest in a series of injuries that have dogged him since he was a Minor Leaguer. Until d’Arnaud proves he can stay healthy, questions will follow him — and they’re warranted. Even when healthy last season, d’Arnaud hit just .247 with a .629 OPS.
“This game is about confidence,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “It’s about believing in yourself when you walk out there with talent and you believe in yourself, you get things done. And when you start to struggle and get some doubt that creeps in there, you start having a tough time. And I think Travis was there. … I know he’s bound and determined to have a better year.”
The Mets are doing what they can to help, recently hiring catching guru Glenn Sherlock as their third-base coach and catching instructor. The idea is that with Sherlock there to ease his mind regarding defensive tactics, d’Arnaud will become free to focus on what he does best: hitting.
Behind d’Arnaud, the Mets will return both veteran backup Rene Rivera and 25-year-old Kevin Plawecki. The former is a big league veteran well respected for his work behind the plate, but he is limited as an offensive player. Rivera is a clubhouse leader and an excellent bench option but not a candidate to start in the big leagues. The latter was once a well-regarded prospect who has struggled in his opportunities subbing for d’Arnaud. Though New York still feels Plawecki has potential, he’s likely to open the year at Triple-A Las Vegas.
If d’Arnaud plays up to expectations, none of that will matter. The Mets’ 2017 catching conversation begins and ends with him.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Source: Mets News / Around the Horn: d’Arnaud bounceback key at backstop