By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)
As has been reported for a couple days now, the Mets are interested in acquiring Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The Mets have a clear need at catcher; they rank 20th in catcher fWAR, and the position is collectively slashing an abysmal .214/.294/.310. Travis d’Arnaud, a once-heralded prospect just a few years ago, has so far this season contributed to the woeful state of the position, slashing just .238/.293/.328 (72 wRC+).
Pardon me if, like the Brewers, I’m not weak in the knees by the Mets’ straight-up offer of d’Arnaud for Lucroy.
The main attraction from the Brewers standpoint would be d’Arnaud’s pedigree and remaining team control. This from Mets GM Sandy Alderson in 2012, upon acquiring d’Arnaud from Toronto in 2012 as part of the R.A. Dickey deal:
“We viewed d’Arnaud, and I believe the industry views Travis, as the top catching prospect in the game,” Alderson said. “And not just the top catching prospect, but the one who is closest to major league ready, if not now major league ready. In addition, we think his upside is such that he could be a significant player for us over the next many years.”
D’Arnaud was, indeed, close to “major league ready,” if for no other reason than he wound up logging nearly 100 at bats for the Mets in 2013. The results would suggest otherwise, though. D’Arnaud was dreadful in his cup of coffee, and followed that up in 2014 with a full season’s worth of barely-above-replacement-level production. 2015 looked like d’Arnaud’s breakout season (he hit .268/.340/.485), prompting such laudatory articles as this from Mark Simon of ESPN.
Prophetically, the opening paragraph of Simon’s piece is as follows:
Travis d’Arnaud is on the cusp of becoming really good. It’s something those who judge baseball players for a living have been saying about him for the last three seasons. And yet one scout I regularly speak with says you have to be patient with catchers and give them time. The time for d’Arnaud, who turns 27 in February, is right now. But his biggest challenge may be staying healthy.
Indeed, d’Arnaud missed half of last season with an elbow injury, and has again spent time on the disabled list in 2016 with a shoulder injury.
While there’s no doubting d’Arnaud’s status as a former top prospect, there is ample reason to question the value of his remaining team control. D’Arnaud is arbitration eligible for the first time next year, and he’s slated to become a free agent in 2020. Don’t mistake d’Arnaud’s lack of service time for youth, though: d’Arnaud is already 27, and while Simon was right to remark about the necessity of patience with catchers, d’Arnaud is running out of time to prove his mettle at catcher. There are already calls from the notoriously impatient New York media for him to change positions to preserve his health.
So in sum: the Mets want 1.5 years of arguably the top catcher in baseball in exchange for 3 years of a maybe-decent, often-injured once-prospect. I’ll pass, thank you.
This isn’t to say the Mets aren’t in any sense a match for the Brewers on a Lucroy trade; it just seems very unlikely. The player most likely to draw the Brewers’ interest is the Mets’ top prospect, 1B Dominic Smith, who is a power-hitting lefty widely regarded as a top-50 prospect in baseball generally. A member of the 2013 draft class, Smith is currently slashing .284/.344/.447 in AA Birmingham. The Mets have their own long-term question mark at 1B, though, with Lucas Duda set to be a free agent in 2018. As a team with the pitching to remain competitive for some time, it seems unlikely the Mets would be willing to mortgage the future for an outside shot at the playoffs this season and whatever next season might bring with Lucroy.
Beyond Smith? Not much that would be of obvious interest to the Brewers, unless their plan is to simply stockpile talent regardless of position. It’s not that the Mets’ farm clubs are devoid of talent; it’s just that the team’s 2nd to 7th best prospects all play SS and OF, positions at which the Brewers are currently loaded. Perhaps SS Gavin Cecchini could shift to 2B, but I’m doubtful the Mets would be willing to pull the trigger on d’Arnaud and Cecchini for Lucroy. And here again we have a useful building block for the Mets going forward, as their current 2B, Neil Walker, is a free agent at years’ end.
This is all to say that I find it highly unlikely Lucroy is dealt to the Mets before the trade deadline. With that deadline looming, there’s certain to be much more noise in the coming days.