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Mets hopeful Travis d’Arnaud, Kevin Plawecki will improve

New York Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud returns to

New York Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud returns to the dugout after striking out against the Minnesota Twins at Citi Field on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Neither Wilson Ramos nor Matt Wieters received a qualifying offer from his former team this week, meaning that either catcher could be signed without the extra cost of a draft pick.

The Mets’ catchers ranked next to last in the National League with a .607 OPS, a number dragged down by Travis d’Arnaud’s struggles. But as the offseason begins, general manager Sandy Alderson said the Mets are focused on improving their current catchers rather than looking for an outside upgrade, as they did at the trade deadline when they missed out on bringing in Jonathan Lucroy.

“Right now, we have to figure out how to get what we have better,” Alderson said this week. “I think that’s our mindset at the moment.”

For the Mets, that means giving another chance to d’Arnaud, 27, who was expected to grow into their top catcher after his acquisition in the R.A. Dickey trade in December 2012.

“I for sure love this organization,” d’Arnaud said Tuesday. “I’ve been here since the start of my big-league career. They’ve given me my first chance and I’ve come to admire and appreciate everyone in this organization, from the front office, to owners, to coaches, to players, to fans. Everyone has definitely impacted my life in one way or another. So for me to be able to come back and be with a team that I admire so much would definitely mean the world for me.”

It was d’Arnaud who headlined the trade that brought him from the Blue Jays for Dickey, the reigning Cy Young Award winner. But since then, pitcher Noah Syndergaard has become its most notable player while d’Arnaud has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency.

When healthy in 2015, d’Arnaud showed signs of becoming among the more productive catchers in baseball, hitting .268 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs. The Mets began 2016 banking on d’Arnaud to lengthen the lineup, with another highly regarded prospect, Kevin Plawecki, adding depth. But d’Arnaud again dealt with injuries and regressed at the plate, hitting .247/.307/.323 with four homers and 15 RBIs.

“I know I definitely had a difficult year as far as numbers go,” d’Arnaud said.

Plawecki, 25, hit only .197 in 48 games and spent much of the year in Triple-A Las Vegas. By the end of the season, Rene Rivera had taken over catching duties, with d’Arnaud relegated to more of a backup role.

“I talked about lengthening the lineup,” Alderson said. “You can’t go into a National League season with your eight hitter hitting what essentially your nine hitter is hitting. But do we think we have the potential for improvement there? I think we do feel that way.”

The outside options aren’t robust, and the most prominent names come with their own risks. The switch-hitting Wieters hit .243 with 17 homers, a dip from his typical production. Ramos hit .307 with 22 homers for the Nationals in an All-Star season that ended with a torn ACL that could sideline him into May. The Yankees’ Brian McCann is believed to be available in a deal, though he has a full no-trade clause. And trades with the crosstown Mets are rare.

“We definitely need improvement in that area,” Alderson said of catching. “Can it come from what we have? We think so.”

That belief is shared by d’Arnaud, who thinks a bounce-back season remains within reach.

“For me, that belief comes from the inside,” d’Arnaud said. “I just have to accept what happened last year. It happened. That year is over with. All I can do is work harder, train harder, study harder.”

Empty plate

Mets catchers ranked near the bottom of most hitting categories among the 15 NL teams in 2016:

BA .198 (15th)

Runs 44 (15th)

Hits 127 (12th, tie)

HRs 10 (12th, tie)

RBIs 49 (15th)

OBP .297 (14th)

SLG .311 (14th)

OPS .607 (14th)

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