PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Back in the winter of 2012, as the Mets scoured the leagues to flip Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey for talent that would anchor the franchise’s future core, the only team that entertained moving a catcher was the Blue Jays.
For the Mets, the trade has paid off handsomely. In Travis d’Arnaud, they were convinced that they had acquired a critical piece to the puzzle, and last season only bolstered that belief.
Yes, d’Arnaud, 27, again battled injuries. He played only 67 games and caught fewer games than backup Kevin Plawecki. But when d’Arnaud was on the field, he answered any lingering questions about his ability to grow into a dangerous hitter.
By year’s end, only a season’s worth of good health kept him from establishing himself as one of the game’s top catchers. He hit 12 home runs and knocked in 41 runs in 239 at-bats.
As spring training looms and the Mets begin their defense of the National League pennant, d’Arnaud’s progress again will loom large.
The Mets have built their lineup partly around the idea of squeezing more production from places where offense is relatively scarce — such as at catcher. In 2015, only two catchers who made at least 250 plate appearances managed an OPS better than .800. One was the Giants’ Buster Posey. The other was d’Arnaud.
“I think I had a decent year,” he said. “But there’s always room for improvement, for consistency and to just keep learning the game.”
Now d’Arnaud must find some of that consistency behind the plate. Though he ranks favorably when it comes to pitch-framing, which increasingly has become recognized as a critical skill, his throwing has faced some scrutiny.
“I had little rough patches throughout the season, a little streaky with the throwing,” he said. “But once I learned to stay consistent with the routine, just relaxed and made a good throw, good things came. I’ve just got to stay right there.”
In 2014, d’Arnaud caught only 19 percent of base-stealers, well below the league average of 28. Last season, his caught-stealing mark was 33 percent. But within that statistical improvement came stretches of errant throws, a deficiency he believes was “more mental than mechanical.”
Whatever the cause, he hopes to resolve it this season. But what d’Arnaud does at the plate could prove just as important. The Mets hope to keep his bat in the lineup, part of the reason that during camp, he might see action at first base or even leftfield.
Over the winter, d’Arnaud took his time reaching the Mets’ complex. He made good on doing “something I’ve always wanted to do” by seeing the sights as he piloted an RV from California to Florida.
Since his arrival Jan. 10, he’s been a presence during voluntary workouts. Before the official opening of camp this week, d’Arnaud has passed some of the time by taking grounders at shortstop.
“Good footwork, picking every ball, made a sick play the other day,” he said.
Of course, he won’t see time at shortstop. But in discussing other ways to add to his versatility, he insists he’ll be ready:
“I’m ready for whatever — whatever’s going to get us playing in October and November.”