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The Mets have a catcher problem

The team with the best record in baseball just suffered a catastrophe at catcher. Thankfully, they have options.

New York Mets v Miami Marlins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Mets went into the season with some solid depth at catcher. That is a good thing, because Travis d’Arnaud’s career has been plagued with injury. Kevin Plawecki is the backup, and as with d’Arnaud, he has yet to fulfill scouts’ expectations of a bat-first catcher. To be fair, the same can be said for d’Arnaud, but Plawecki has a career line of .219/.309/.305 with only seven home runs. His career .272 wOBA is 36 points lower than d’Arnaud’s.

Both catchers have similar defensive profiles as well. Neither one of them are especially good defensively in a classical sense. Where they do is excel, however, is their pitch-framing. With d’Arnaud especially, this led to him putting up pretty good numbers per Baseball Prospectus’s advanced defensive metric, FRAA.

This depth recently blew up quickly. d’Arnaud was diagnosed with a partially torn UCL in his elbow and will undergo Tommy John surgery. Position players do not require the extensive rehab that pitchers do, but d’Arnaud will still need to miss the rest of the season. When it looked like it would be Plawecki’s time to shine, he took a 98-MPH fastball off of his left hand. He was diagnosed with a hairline fracture and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks.

So the Mets needed both an everyday catcher and a back-up. They decided to promote from within to fill these roles, calling up Tomás Nido and José Lobatón.

I was unfamiliar with Nido until recently — which surprised me, because I’m a Mets fan — but his profile is interesting. While you won’t find him on any list of top 100 prospects, he is considered to be one of the better prospects in the Mets’ system. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked him 16th in the system. Baseball Prospectus was more optimistic, putting him at sixth. They both agree that he is a strong defensive backstop with some pop in his swing, but his hit tool limits his ceiling. There is nothing wrong with projecting as a solid back-up catcher, but the Mets need more than that.

Lobatón is the veteran catcher in his ninth season of major league baseball. He is more or less a career back-up who has never hit, with a career line of .219/.295/.325 and a 72 wRC+. He was especially bad last year, hitting just .170/.248/.277 over 158 PA. His 36 wRC+ was one of the worst in baseball among hitters with at least 150 PA.

Nido might surprise, but neither one of these guys are a good choice for regular playing time for a team that can contend. Plawecki should be back in mid to late May, but he might not be the best choice for an everyday role either.

So where should the Mets go from here? Their farm system is not especially strong at the moment, so that limits what they can do. They do have options, though.

J.T. Realmuto would be a great option, and in fact, there are reports that the Mets have spoken to the Marlins about him. Reportedly it would take a “haul” to get him, but the Mets can’t offer that kind of return. It’s odd to see the new Marlins ownership suddenly appear to care about the baseball team, since they’ve made it very clear that they care more about money than the product on the field or their fans. The Mets have a bad reputation for being cheap as well, so perhaps “haul” means lots of money in the form of “cash considerations.”

Realmuto has made it abundantly clear that he is unhappy with the Marlins’ most recent fire sale, so perhaps that can lighten the leverage that the Marlins have. I am sincerely surprised that the team is not willing to accept any paltry return just so that they can get out of the millions of dollars that they will owe Realmuto in arbitration through 2020.

Unlike d’Arnaud, Realmuto has a good history of durability. He is a career .280/.322/.428 hitter, which is quite good for a catcher, and his defense has improved the past couple of years. He also has two more years of team control after this one. His fit with the Mets makes so much sense that many others have made the same suggestion.

Even if the Marlins waver on their trade demands, Realmuto is still on the DL. He is expected to be back soon, but they have been saying that for awhile now.

Another interesting option that the Mets should consider: Blake Swihart. Once the top catching prospect in baseball, Swihart’s stock has fallen substantially. He is a below-average defensive catcher, and it had been reported that Red Sox pitchers did not like throwing to him. The Red Sox have clearly settled on the defensively superior Christian Vázquez by signing him to a three-year, $13.55 million extension with a $7 million club option for a fourth year.

Because of a mixture of injury and being blocked at the major league level, including the outfield, Swihart has not seen much major league playing time since his 2015 debut. He continues to barely get any playing time because the outfield is full and the Red Sox have better options at catcher with Vázquez and Sandy León.

Swihart would cost almost nothing to acquire and he is under contract through 2022. And he is healthy. He is going to cost runs behind home plate, but he is so athletic that I refuse to believe that he can’t play the position. Even if does no better than his career 92 wRC+, he would still be an upgrade over Nido or Lobatón, with the upside that scouts once saw in him. He would be a low risk, high reward acquisition.

The Mets should absolutely continue to pursue Realmuto. If it turns out that the Marlins have indeed started caring about their baseball team, then Swihart could be a viable alternative. They have jumped out to a big lead in the NL East, but they will need all the help they can get to hold off the Nationals.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.