PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Up until Tuesday morning, when free agent Matt Wieters reportedly agreed to a deal with the rival Nationals, the opportunity existed for the Mets to go in a different direction behind the plate. But throughout the offseason, the Mets held firm on sticking with Travis d’Arnaud, even after his bumpy 2016.
“I want to prove them correct,” d’Arnaud said Tuesday.
Wieters, 30, reportedly agreed to a two-year contract worth $21 million. The switch-hitting former first-round pick represented a potential change for the Mets, who bring World Series aspirations into a new season.
But the Mets never gave any indication of expending significant resources for catching help, including Wieters, the former Oriole who hit .243 with 17 homers last year and whose last few seasons have been riddled with health issues.
Instead, the Mets doubled down on their commitment to d’Arnaud, who hit .247 with four homers in a season marred by a right shoulder injury that sidelined him for two months. It was a drastic drop-off for d’Arnaud, who a year earlier hit .268 with 12 homers. With an .825 OPS, he emerged as one of baseball’s most productive catchers.
“Everybody’s allowed to have a bad year, everybody,” manager Terry Collins said Tuesday. “There’s not a guy in baseball that hasn’t gone through a tough time. Now, we’ve got to rise up and change it, to have a better year.”
The Mets’ offseason moves have been guided by the belief that improvement — whether through bounce-back seasons or better health — would come from within. In d’Arnaud, the Mets have a poster boy for that principle.
But opportunities and a team’s patience don’t last forever, and the Mets demonstrated that at the trade deadline last season, when they made an aggressive push to acquire All-Star catcher Jonathon Lucroy from the Brewers. Talks stalled, leaving the Mets to decide how they would proceed with d’Arnaud, who lost playing time to journeyman Rene Rivera. Those deliberations apparently didn’t last long.
Mets officials insisted that adding a catcher to supplant d’Arnaud was not a priority. Then they hired Glenn Sherlock from the Diamondbacks, intrigued by his track record of working with catchers. Though he doubles as the third-base coach, one of his primary missions will be getting the 28-year-old d’Arnaud back on track.
That kind of one-on-one attention has been clear during camp. As the rest of the players are still getting dressed for the workday, d’Arnaud and Sherlock have broken away from the group to work on throwing drills.
“They still wanted me, you know?” d’Arnaud said. “And that’s definitely big, being a player. It definitely made me want to work harder to support their decision and back them up.”
In the big leagues, d’Arnaud has shown an aptitude for framing pitches, a skill the Mets hold in high value. It’s part of the reason that Wieters, who is considered a subpar pitch-framer, did not hold much allure for club officials.
But it’s still at the plate where the Mets see d’Arnaud as a potential force. This camp has been spent refining his setup at the plate, ensuring that it remains consistent.
“His bat potential is what makes him special for me,” Collins said. “So when he’s swinging, he’s extremely dangerous. He adds another big righthanded bat in our lineup who can drive the ball, hit the ball out of our ballpark, drive in runs.”
Lineup depth often separates pretenders from contenders. The Mets have sought it for years, targeting players who can bring above-average offensive production to their defensive positions.
It’s why Daniel Murphy and then Neil Walker have been stashed at second base. It’s why shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera emerged as an attractive target in free agency last season. It’s why d’Arnaud fronted the R.A. Dickey trade to the Blue Jays in 2012, a pivotal deal that also brought Noah Syndergaard.
“What happened has happened,” d’Arnaud said. “You’ve got to learn from it instead of hiding from it.”
The Mets were near the bottom of the National League for offensive production from the catching position last season. How they ranked:
Hits 127 (13)
HRs 10 (12, tie)
RBIs 49 (15)
BA .227 (13)
OBP .297 (14)
SLG .311 (14)
OPS .607 (14)
Total bases 174 (14)