The Mets 10-2 start to the season along with a nine-game winning streak can camouflage any number of weaknesses the team may have. But the loss of both their front-line catchers is glaring, and the challenge of overcoming these injuries goes far beyond the need to fill just that position.
Matt Harvey has made two successful starts for the Mets on April 3 and April 11. Both times, Travis d’Arnaud was his catcher. Zack Wheeler, who was recently recalled from purgatory in Las Vegas, went seven outstanding innings with Kevin Plawecki framing his pitches.
Noah Syndergaard, the ace of the Mets staff, has made three overwhelming starts thus far and each time Plawecki has drawn the assignment as his catcher. Plawecki has also caught two of the three starts made by Jacob deGrom.
Whether by design or not, New York Mets manager, Mickey Callaway, does not seem to have a problem with allowing at least his starters to have a personal catcher. This is in sharp contrast from his counterpart in the Bronx, Aaron Boone, who has definitively rejected the notion of his pitchers having a personal catcher.
Callaway gets the edge over Boone (in my opinion) regarding this strategy, but that is not what this is about. The challenge facing the Mets is two-fold and does not only involve coming up with suitable replacements for the rest of the season with d’Arnaud, and an indefinite period with Plawecki.
As explained more fully in yesterday’s post, the relationship between a pitcher and his catcher is unique in baseball. The only aspect of the game that comes close is the interplay between a shortstop and the second baseman on a double-play ball and taking relays from the outfield.
Needing a major-league ready catcher, something Sandy Alderson (right) is working on but hasn’t yet fulfilled as this is written, is only half the problem facing the Mets. The other half is no matter who is chosen to fill that role, all of the Mets pitchers will be starting from Day One regarding developing a “working” relationship with him.
And that is an even bigger problem than finding a qualified body or two to fill the hole.
Not surprisingly, there is a host of candidates for the job, and the media is not bashful about putting their two-cents in the mix. Newsday, for instance, submits Jose Lobaton, who has already been called up from Triple-A Las Vegas and given the start on Friday night, a Mets win.
Newsday then moves on to Blake Swihart, currently with the Red Sox and available only by trade. Similarly, J.T. Realmuto is the most prominent fish in the pond, but he is now stuck with the Miami Marlins, making it questionable if the Mets have enough minor league talent to satisfy the thirsty needs of Derek Jeter in a trade.
And the list goes on. But one thing cannot be ignored, which is the Mets catching department was weak from the get-go, and Sandy Alderson did nothing about it, choosing instead to stand still.
In every other way, Alderson shined, and the results are seen in the NL East standings today. And to his credit, how could Alderson have predicted that both of his catchers would go down at the same time.
The point, though, is this. Plawecki is targeted to be lost for 3-4 weeks according to Mets brass. The Mets willingness to put a time frame on his return is in marked contrast to the “new and improved” manner in which the team has been dealing with injuries over the past several months. This indicates a concern the Mets have to keep their fan base in check, relaxed, and knowing this is only a temporary hiccup.
And even when Plawecki returns, is he the answer to a team which is well on its way to playing baseball in October? The record would say no, meaning Alderson needs to find at least one catcher who can be a consistent presence for the Mets pitchers over the next 150 games.
Give me a choice, and I’d be on the phone to Billy Beane over in Oakland and trying to pry away Jonathan Lucroy. A missed opportunity for signing during the offseason, Lecroy hits all of the checkpoints the Mets need. He’s a good receiver, a line-drive doubles hitter with some power to the opposite field, and more significantly, someone who’s been around the block a few times in the major leagues.
Failing that, there cannot be a parade of catchers who are here today and gone tomorrow. The pitching staff, the Mets, have longed for is here. Five aces, soon to be six when Jason Vargas returns, need and deserve the full attention of the Mets.
And part of that equation has to be giving the staff not only consistency with their receiver, which they’ve had so far but someone who can quickly establish that intangible element of report between pitchers and catchers, so crucial and so obviously a point of success to the Mets season to date.
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