So with the Mets off to the best start in their history, and the now-injured pair of catchers not particularly integral to that burst out of the gate … no better time to maintain the course?
That’s not the message Sandy Alderson sent to his public Friday afternoon. To the contrary, this win-now team wants to ensure it keeps winning, now.
The best solution might prove to be old Nationals nemesis Wilson Ramos.
With Travis d’Arnaud (torn UCL in his right elbow) done for the season and Kevin Plawecki (fracture in his left hand) out for about a month, the Mets are open to anything and everything, Alderson strongly indicated before his team proceeded to win its ninth straight game, 6-5 over the Brewers at Citi Field, raising its record to an MLB-leading 11-1. They’ll even consider the vulture’s role in an attempt to capitalize on the industry tankers.
When I asked Alderson whether our location on the baseball calendar means he’ll have to settle for stopgap backstop options, the general manager responded thus: “I think it’s difficult to say, but I don’t think the calendar necessarily will control all of those options. As we’ve noted in baseball over the offseason and early in the season, there are some teams that probably aren’t trying that hard, so I’m not sure the calendar is even relevant in those cases. So we’ll have to see.”
First of all, bonus points to Alderson, a former big shot in the commissioner’s office, for voicing a truth that will not thrill the current big shots in the commissioner’s office. Now let’s move on to the substance of his words.
The Marlins “probably aren’t trying that hard,” and they have an exciting young catcher in J.T. Realmuto who expressed his dissatisfaction with the franchise’s direction last winter. Yet Realmuto, currently on the disabled list with a bone bruise in his back, very likely would cost more than the Mets can pay when it comes to young talent. The 27-year-old can’t become a free agent until after the 2020 season, and if the Marlins ever legitimately shopped him, common sense says they’d get a trove of prospects — from some interested suitor — that the current Mets, their farm system admittedly weak, couldn’t match.
Hence let’s shift the focus 265 miles to the northwest, from Marlins Park to Tropicana Field, where the Rays also “probably aren’t trying that hard.” Ramos, in the second year of a two-year contract, is off to an awful start, slashing .162/.225/.162. Last season, after returning from right knee surgery, he slashed a respectable (for a catcher) .260/.290/.447 in 64 games. He’ll make $10.5 million this season with another $750,000 attainable in playing-time incentives.
The Rays, who have won only three of their first 13 games, might be open to cashing in on what they can. At this point, Ramos would cost virtually nothing in talent if the Mets assumed a healthy portion of his salary. Really, the Mets can afford to wait a little to make sure Ramos wakes up offensively. Other possibilities, as identified by The Post’s Joel Sherman: Boston’s Blake Swihart, Cincinnati’s Devin Mesoraco, Houston’s Max Stassi or someone from the surplus in Arizona (Alex Avila, Jeff Mathis and John Ryan Murphy) or Milwaukee (Jett Bandy, Manny Pina and Stephen Vogt).
Alderson said he can expand the team’s payroll for a catcher “if we felt it was necessary.” He added he was comfortable with the current duo of veteran Jose Lobaton (who started Friday night against the Brewers, going 1-for-4 with a triple) and rookie Tomas Nido “for the very short term,” and pressed on what that meant, he joked, “Until about 11 o’clock tonight.”
The Mets like Nido’s defense for the long term, but harbor doubts about his ability to hit; Lobaton is a career backup. Plawecki carries no real track record to give the Mets faith.
This will be one to monitor immediately, if not set to change imminently. Alderson has displayed a willingness to be aggressive when properly motivated, like in 2015 and 2016. And this GM looks motivated enough to act quickly, the traditional calendar be damned.