WASHINGTON, D.C. — Heading into the trade deadline, it’s nice to have problems as minor as the ninth spot in the order not hitting very much.
That’s been one of the only real nits to pick with the Mets (65-37), who have batted their catcher in the nine hole for 97 of their 102 games this season. Those catchers — Tomas Nido, James McCann and Patrick Mazeika — have a collective 54 wRC+, analytics-speak for 46% worse than the average major league hitter.
The only team getting worse offensive production from their catchers is the Houston Astros (51 wRC+), who addressed that issue head-on by swinging a trade for Boston backstop Christian Vazquez on Monday. Armchair general managers across the tri-state area can all agree that the Mets should also look to upgrade the position before the trade deadline, which hits at 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
Buck Showalter isn’t really the type of guy to dwell on the negative, though, at least not with cameras and recording devices around. Rather than bemoan the lack of offense, Showalter focused on the positives that primary catcher Tomas Nido has brought this season.
“Tomas takes a lot of pride in his pitch calling and his adaptability about what the pitchers have, what they need him to bring,” Showalter said on Monday. “I think he’s in a good place. He’s actually done some things offensively, stayed a little shorter to the ball.”
The 28-year-old Nido has also become the pitching staff’s favorite battery mate. His three Catcher Framing Runs are good for fifth in the National League, and by FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Saved, he’s tied for second among National League catchers.
“He’s been solid at a very demanding position, obviously,” Showalter said. “He understands that each pitcher is a little different.”
Nido went 1-for-4 with a two-strike, RBI single in the series opener vs. Washington. That brought his OPS up to .517, not good in any sense of the word, but also not coming from a guy that the Mets thought would be strapping on the catcher’s gear every day.
James McCann is in the second year of a four-year, $40 million deal he signed as a free agent before the 2021 season. McCann posted an .808 OPS in two seasons for the White Sox, one of which got him a trip to the All-Star Game in 2019. That was the fourth-highest OPS of any catcher in those two years (min. 500 plate appearances). While injuries have mostly taken him out of the picture in 2022, McCann’s OPS in his first two seasons with the Mets thus far is .625.
The Mets are expecting to get McCann back for their five-game series with the Braves over the weekend, which has a chance to be the biggest one of their regular season. When McCann initially strained the oblique on July 9 that’s kept him out since, the initial thought was that he’d be down until late-August or early September. After three rehab games for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, that is no longer the case.
“Earliest [he’d play] would be Thursday,” Showalter confirmed. “Whether he needs some more time or not, we’ll see.”
Just like everybody else, the Mets’ catchers are cognizant of their situation. They have access to the same newspapers, internet and television shows as the general public, and that means being aware of the desire that many fans have for a new man behind the plate.
“There’s some anxiety in it, every team is dealing with it,” Showalter said, before sharing a funny story about accidentally contributing to that deadline anxiety.
“I called Tomas in [on Sunday] to, quite frankly, tell him what a good job I thought he’s been doing. He thought…It kind of reminded me that I need to be careful with that.”
If the Mets strike out at the trade deadline, failing to get a catcher like Chicago’s Willson Contrenras or any of the big boppers or dominant relievers that could put them over the top, Showalter has a mental remedy for that.
“I keep in mind that we did add big pieces,” Showalter spun. “We did add Max, and Starling, and Eduardo, and Canha, we’ve done that. We added Ottavino. I’m very appreciative. I know how lucky I am to have that type of support. You get these precious commodities given to you, and assets to the fans and organization, you want to make sure they’re able to put their best foot forward.”
There are more precious commodities and assets to be had, but if any team is built to keep chugging along without acquiring one, it just might be the first-place Mets and their glass-half-full manager.