WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — It’s not every day when nearly the entire front office of a team turns out on a back field at 10 a.m. to watch a potential third-string catcher play in a spring training “B” game.
But Travis d’Arnaud is not your ordinary potential third-string catcher. He’s the Mets’ former No. 1 and, the team believes, still young enough and talented enough to be either a solid contributor or a very attractive trade piece once he recovers from last year’s Tommy John surgery.
So there were owner Fred Wilpon, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and other Mets executives sitting in the bleachers behind home plate Thursday morning as d’Arnaud made his first appearance at catcher since last April 8.
The social media-savvy Van Wagenen even chronicled the first pitch thrown by lefthander Hector Santiago with a photo on Twitter and a post that read: “Big moment for Travis! He catches his first pitch back from rehab in our early game today against Washington.”
D’Arnaud ended up catching three innings. He didn’t make any throws other than one at the start of each half-inning to second base and the ones back to Santiago. There were no plays at the plate.
But d’Arnaud had a ball.
“It felt good,” he said. “Just felt good to finally be back out there, to work with pitchers again. All the old one-liners are coming back in my head about how to call a game and stuff. Hector definitely made it easy for me. It was a lot of fun. I’m so glad to be back out there.”
D’Arnaud also had a pair of singles — one to right and one to left. The two-hour game also featured Mets major-leaguers such as Brandon Nimmo, Dominic Smith and Juan Lagares and drew a nice crowd of fans before the 1 p.m. regular game between the Mets and Nationals.
When d’Arnaud’s three innings were over, his work wasn’t. He walked to an adjacent field with catching instructor Glenn Sherlock and made three more throws from behind the plate — one to each base, starting with third. He then caught Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson in the bullpen before each reliever entered the game.
The Mets hope d’Arnaud eventually will be able to make unlimited throws in regular-season games. Van Wagenen, in one of his first decisions as general manager, decided to tender a contract to d’Arnaud rather than allow him to become a free agent before the Nov. 30 deadline.
That was the same day the Mets let Wilmer Flores go to save money. D’Arnaud, who also was arbitration-eligible, eventually agreed to a non-guaranteed $3.5 million contract. That was before the Mets signed Wilson Ramos to a two-year, $19 million deal to be their No. 1 catcher and re-signed Devin Mesoraco to a minor-league deal. Mesoraco has the distinction of being Jacob deGrom’s favorite catcher, which could give him a leg up on a roster spot.
The Mets still can release d’Arnaud, 30, at various points during spring training to save most of his salary, but there is no indication that they plan to do so.
Van Wagenen has talked about using d’Arnaud as a utility player even though his only experience at a position other than catcher are 3 1⁄3 innings at second base and 5 2⁄3 innings at third base, both in 2017.
But good catching is in short supply in the majors, and d’Arnaud could fetch a return from another team if he proves to be healthy. The Royals, for example, just lost All-Star catcher Salvador Perez to Tommy John surgery.
D’Arnaud’s Mets future remains to be seen, even after Thursday’s important and well-attended first step.
“It feels really good to have a clear mind,” he said. “Just catch it and get it down there instead of worrying about all these mechanical things or whatever was going on in my head last year or years prior.”