Who Is the Real Travis d’Arnaud?

With the Mets having just taken two out of three from the Marlins and having gained a game on the Nationals this weekend, the pennant race is in full swing.  The Mets are within striking distance of the division and both Wild Card spots.  This is a team desperate to go back to the postseason and take that one step further and win the World Series.  In order to accomplish that goal, they have to pursue every avenue in an attempt to make the team better.  That could include Jonathan Lucory.

Over the weekend, the latest rumor in what should prove to be a week of crazy rumors was that the Mets were interested in trading Travis d’Arnaud straight up for Lucroy.  The Brewers understandably said no, as Lucroy is among the top three catchers in the sport, and he has an extremely reasonable $5.25 million option for his age 31 years season.  With his production and his contract, every team in baseball should be interested in him except the Giants who have Buster Posey.  Still, it is interesting to see the Mets engaged with the Brewers on a trade for Lucroy, when it is going to cost them d’Arnaud and a good to elite prospect.  Overall, this may say something about how the Mets feel about d’Arnaud.

Overall, it is hard to get a real feel on who the real d’Arnaud is.  Part of that is his injury history.  Part of that is his inconsistent play.

When d’Arnaud was first called up to the Mets, he struggled.  In his first 139 games which spanned across 2013 and 2014, d’Arnaud hit .233/.299/.384 with 25 doubles, three triples, 14 homers, and 46 RBI.  He was having the types of offensive struggles we have seen Kevin Plawecki have in similarly limited duty.  d’Arnaud had really struggled to start 2014 hitting .180/.271/.273 through 39 games.  He left the Mets no choice but to send him down to the minors.  In AAA, d’Arnaud got his head straight, and he came back a much better player for the end of the 2014 season.  He played in 69 games after getting recalled hitting .272/.319/.486 with 19 doubles, three triples, and 10 home runs with 32 RBI.  He seemed on his way to turning the corner.

That belief was only fortified in a strong 2015 campaign.  Although limited due to two injuries, d’Arnaud did hit well throughout the 2015 season hitting .268/.340/.485 with 14 doubles, one triple, 12 homers, and 41 RBI in 67 games.  If he was healthy, and that is always a big if with him, d’Arnaud was on pace to hit 28 doubles and 24 homers and 82 RBI if he was able to play in 134 games, which is a fair number of games to expect a healthy 26 year old catcher to play.  For what it’s worth, Lucroy has never hit more than 18 homers in a year, has averaged 22 doubles, and 82 RBI is his career high mark in his seven year career.  By the way, Lucroy plays in a great hitter’s park in Miller Park whereas d’Arnaud plays in Citi Field which still plays like a pitcher’s park even with the moved in outfield fences.  Simply put, it was fair to expect d’Arnaud to be every good as Lucroy this year.

It hasn’t happened that way.  So far this year, d’Arnaud is hitting .246/.302/.339 with five doubles, no triples, two homers, and 10 RBI.  He has missed 48 games with a shoulder injury.  It makes you question whether this meager production is related to his shoulder injury, his batting eighth in the lineup most nights, his new stance that has him wrapping his hands, or maybe just maybe, he’s not as good as we thought he was going to be.  It’s possible the 67 games he played last year was an outlier as the production he has put up in his other 173 major league games are more in tune with the the production he has had this year.

Personally, I believe he is the player we saw last year.  He is the catcher who is an excellent pitch framer that handles a very good starting staff very well.  He is a guy with good power at the position who can be a difference maker in the lineup.  You don’t want to move a piece like that especially when that player is under team control until 2020.  It’s one thing to do everything you can do to win a World Series.  It’s another thing to trade a player like d’Arnaud who should have similar, if not better, production to Lucroy and give away a big asset along with him.

And yet, d’Arnaud isn’t the player he was supposed to be.  Given the fact that the Mets pitchers are starting to reach arbitration now and free agency is just on the horizon, the window is now open even with the Matt Harvey injury. The Mets can ill afford to punt a year away when they are in contention.  With that in mind, is it fair to the team and the fans to sit around and wait to find out what d’Arnaud is when there’s a player like Lucroy available who can help you win this year and the next?

It’s not an easy answer especially when that other piece that would be traded along with d’Arnaud could be moved for another piece that could be a much bigger upgrade than what Lucroy would be over what d’Arnaud may be perceived to be.  Either way, it’s telling that the Mets are at least considering the swap.  At a minimum, it tells you they believe d’Arnaud is not as good as Lucroy.  It may also be telling you that they don’t believe d’Arnaud will ever reach his full potential.


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