How will Alvarez respond as the Mets’ starting catcher?

The Mets have not had a reliable long-term starting catcher since Mike Piazza was behind the plate. Perhaps the closest successor was future Hall of Famer Paul Lo Duca, who had two reasonably productive seasons from 2006 to 2007. Travis d’Arnaud and Wilson Ramos are the only Mets catchers to contribute a WAR of at least 2.0 in a season since Piazza. Considering that statistic’s calculations from both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.

Perhaps now, at last, the Mets have found the stability behind the plate they have been seeking for nearly two decades. Venezuelan Francisco Álvarez debuted in late 2022, returned to the Major Leagues in early 2023 and will begin 2024 as the organization’s undisputed starting catcher. There are still many questions surrounding Alvarez’s game; Most of them, surprisingly, are about the bat rather than defence. But the Guatyre native did enough as a rookie, hitting 25 home runs in 423 plate appearances, that the Mets knew it was his time.

Alvarez leads a group of Mets catchers that have a lot of potential, but also a lot of uncertainty in 2024.

First, the negatives: Alvarez didn’t exactly take over the starting catcher’s job after compatriot Omar Narvaez suffered a left calf muscle strain in early April and didn’t make the most of it. Álvarez hit only .209 the rest of the season, often looked worried at the plate and fell into deep slumps on several occasions, including in April, June, and August. Álvarez’s wild swing against Josh Hader in an April 11 loss to the Padres exemplified the weaknesses in his game.

But it’s easy to forget that Alvarez played a campaign at age 21, was one of the youngest players in the Major Leagues, and was largely successful. His 25 home runs were the most by a Mets rookie catcher and the most among starting pitchers age 21 or younger in baseball history. His game-tying three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning against the Rays on May 17 was one of the highlights of the entire season. And his skills behind the plate, which had been a point of concern to opposing scouts and team executives during the preseason, proved more than adequate.

At a time when many future major league players were still in college or bouncing around the lower ranks of the minor leagues, Álvarez remained in the majors. Thus, he will be given every opportunity to improve technically in his first full campaign. Few players in baseball can boast the kind of explosive power that Alvarez possesses at age 22, giving the Mets reason to see if he can live up to his talent.

One surprising thing is that when Billy Eppler signed a two-year, $15 million contract ahead of the 2023 season, Narvaez fit almost as poorly on the roster as his detractors had predicted. His presence denied Alvarez a chance to make the Opening Day squad. Narváez subsequently missed nine weeks recovering from a calf strain, and his return created an awkward situation between him and his compatriots over playing time.

But Narvaez will return in 2024, as his contract included a $7 million player option, making it clear he would exercise it. This time, he will be the obvious choice for Alvarez, starting once or twice a week against right-handed pitchers. The Mets reportedly tried to trade Narváez this winter, but found little market for Mask, who has had an above-average offensive season only once in the past four years. If he is not injured, he will be Alvarez’s main option.

Also on the scene: Tyler Heineman, Tomas Nido

Nido was completely bypassed by the Narváez signing last year, even though the Mets signed the Puerto Rican to a two-year, $3.7 million contract before the season. Nido, the team’s backup catcher when the season began, suffered a vision problem and was designated for assignment in June, but his salary prevented other teams from claiming him. He remained in the minor leagues for the rest of the year.

With Álvarez as the obvious starter and Narvaez as the substitute, Nido heads into 2024 without a defined role. Even if the Mets decide to carry three catchers on their roster — a long shot given their weaknesses at other positions on the diamond — Nido will come to practice at a distinct disadvantage, as he is not part of the 40-man roster. Not long ago, Nido was considered one of the best defensive backup catchers in the game, but it appears he will likely return to Triple-A.

Also complicating matters is the presence of Heineman, who was acquired on waivers from the Blue Jays earlier this winter. With experience spanning parts of four major league seasons, the 32-year-old will arrive in training ranked above Nido on the veteran depth chart. Combines a patient eye at bats with solid defensive numbers.

Future: Kevin Parada?

Due to the fickleness of the MLB Draft, teams almost always select the player they believe is best available rather than trying to fill a need at a specific position. This is because the Mets selected Parada in the first round of the 2022 amateur draft, despite the presence of Álvarez, who was already in the higher leagues of the minor leagues at the time.

Parada, currently in Double-A, has a lot of power potential, similar to Alvarez. If this turns out to be what the organization hopes, the Mets will consider it a good problem they can address in the future. For now, Parada will continue to shine at the higher levels of the minor leagues, with hopes of making his debut in 2025.

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