When the tests came back and the swelling lessened and the lineup needed to be made Saturday, an injury scare for Tomas Nido proved to be just that: a scare, not an injury. His left hand is merely bruised, so a night after he couldn’t swing a bat, he played in a 2-1 loss to the Padres, popping out to second to end the game with the tying run at third base.
In the lineup or not, the impression that episode left regarding the Mets’ catching situation remained. They were a few inches away — the Max Scherzer pitch that crossed up Nido on Friday getting, say, the bony wrist instead of the meaty outside edge of his hand — from being without both of their top backstops, Nido and James McCann. That would have been downright dire for a club clinging to first place in the NL East, even with the catchers’ already paltry production.
Thus, a suggestion: The Mets should strongly consider going after Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, who will be a free agent after this season, before the Aug. 2 trade deadline. And Cubs closer David Robertson too, for that matter. The package deal would address both of the Mets’ weaknesses, power hitting and late-inning relief pitching, and greatly improve their chances of making the deep October run they desire.
Such a trade would cost a pretty prospect penny, to be sure. But a trade like this is what true going-for-it mode — a state the franchise is not particularly familiar with, given its recent history — actually looks like.
Mets officials have said they’d rather not trade from the high end of their farm system. The Cubs’ vice president of player development, Jared Banner, used to have the same job with the Mets, so he would know whom to try to pluck, like last year, when the Mets shipped off Pete Crow-Armstrong for Javier Baez and Trevor Williams, which didn’t exactly work out for the Mets.
So be it. Even with Nido healthy enough to play, the trio of him, McCann (who has a strained oblique) and Patrick Mazeika have left a lot to be desired. “They’ve done a good job defensively — throwing, calling a game, presenting the ball,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Offense has kind of come and gone.”
That is being kind. The offense has mostly gone, not so much come. The Mets rank 23rd in catcher WAR at 0.1, as measured by FanGraphs. That means they collectively have provided about as much value as would be expected of a replacement-level call-up from the minors.
And they have been that productive only because of McCann’s and Nido’s decent defense. The Mets rank last — 30 out of 30 — with a .501 catcher OPS before Nido went 1-for-3 with a sacrifice bunt as the No. 9 hitter.
Contreras, with an .843 OPS, would solve that problem. He is arguably the top offensive catcher in the National League and has been particularly good this year against lefthanded pitchers, posting a .284/.398/.676 slash line. That is a numbers-heavy way of saying Contreras has been Mike Trout-esque against southpaws, who too often have had their way with the Mets, including Blake Snell’s five scoreless innings Saturday. Contreras’ postseason experience includes helping the Cubs to their drought-ending title in 2016 — as a rookie. And his brother, William Contreras, plays for Atlanta, which would make for a fun subplot down the stretch, not that Mets decision-makers concern themselves with such matters.
A knock against Contreras: He does not rate well in framing, which is the art of getting pitches on the fringes of the strike zone called strikes, a skill the Mets value greatly and at which McCann and Nido have excelled. But as one Mets person put it, if Contreras produces two runs and gives up one, isn’t it a net gain?
That is the Mets’ daily gambit with slugger Pete Alonso at first base, after all.
If Contreras’ receiving is that much of a concern, they could use him as a part-time designated hitter, keeping his bat in the lineup against lefties while getting a more defensively inclined backstop behind the plate. He would be the righthanded-hitting DH complement to the lefthanded-hitting Daniel Vogelbach, acquired Friday from the Pirates.
Robertson’s credentials, meanwhile, explain themselves. He also comes with a championship pedigree as a member of the 2009 Yankees, and in his bounce-back season with Chicago, he has a 1.93 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. The Mets should target him regardless of their interest in Contreras.
Either or both would accomplish what general manager Billy Eppler has said he seeks to do at the trade deadline: Widen the gap between the number of runs the Mets score and the number of runs they allow.
“We’re going to be open-minded on everything,” Eppler said Friday. “We can run into some other opportunity that’ll help us maybe score more runs or maybe the next opportunity will only help us prevent runs, and that’s fine, too. We just kind of want to grow that differential. Those are signals of strong teams.”