Analyzing the Mets' decision to let Travis d'Arnaud go: How big was the mistake?

Danny Abriano
·4 min read
Travis d'Arnaud Mets/Braves TREATED ART
Travis d'Arnaud Mets/Braves TREATED ART

Watching Travis d'Arnaud hit frozen ropes all over the place as the Atlanta Braves have dominated in the playoffs is an ugly sight for Mets fans who watched Wilson Ramos hit .239/.297/.387 this season. But just how bad was the Mets' decision to part ways with d'Arnaud?

Before rendering a verdict, it's important to go back to the beginning with the Mets and d'Arnaud.

When he was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays after the 2012 season in the deal for R.A. Dickey, d'Arnaud was viewed as the centerpiece of a trade that also brought Noah Syndergaard to Queens. Syndergaard was a big part of the deal, but it was d'Arnaud who was the biggest get.

Viewed as the top catching prospect in baseball and a player with All-Star potential, the expectations on d'Arnaud were high. And despite the labels some still try to put on his time in New York, he was good when healthy. The problem was that he simply couldn't stay healthy.

D'Arnaud popped 13 homers and slugged .416 as a rookie in 108 games in 2014, hit .268/.340/.485 with 12 homers in 67 games in 2015, and hit .244/.293/.443 with 16 homers in 112 games in 2017.

But notice the games played...

D'Arnaud could not stay on the field with any regularity due to myriad injuries during his first four seasons with the Mets, and he was limited to just four games in 2018 as he underwent Tommy John surgery.

The biggest problem with how the Mets handled him came next.

It would have been understandable for the Mets to non-tender d'Arnaud after the 2018 season and start fresh at catcher. Instead, they tendered him a contract and gave him a grand total of 25 plate appearances in 2019 before DFA'ing him.

Here's how GM Brodie Van Wagenen explained the move at the time:

"I think at the end of the day we felt this moment for this team right now that Tomas Nido gives us the best opportunity to win. ... It's not a knee-jerk to any particular play or any particular game, but we have to evaluate in real time the different scenarios that take place and what gives us a chance to be our best."

After being DFA'd by the Mets, d'Arnaud had one at-bat for the Los Angeles Dodgers and wound up with the Tampa Bay Rays, where he hit .263/.323/.459 with 16 homers in 92 games.

He then signed a two-year deal worth $16 million with the Atlanta Braves before the 2020 season.

To circle back to the initial question we asked at the beginning of this piece, the Mets' decision to part ways with d'Arnaud as quickly as they did in 2019 was very bad. That's the short answer.

The long answer when it comes to the Mets and d'Arnaud is that the situation was layered.

Did the Mets give him five years to become a reliable everyday catcher? Yep

Did they cut bait when he was perhaps on the cusp of finally becoming not only a reliable everyday catcher, but an above average everyday catcher? Yep.

It's also fair, given d'Arnaud's history, to wonder if what he did this season in 44 games for the Braves (and what he's done in the playoffs) is the new normal or an aberration.

D'Arnaud hit .321/.386/.533 with nine homers in the regular season and has hit close to .400 with a .739 slugging percentage in six postseason games.

A look at d'Arnaud's advanced numbers via Baseball Savant show that he was near the top of the league during the regular season in exit velocity and hard hit percentage. But a glance at his BABIP (an absolutely ridiculous .411 when his prior career-high was .293) suggests that he'll be in store for a regression in 2021.

ZiPS projects that d'Arnaud -- who will turn 32 before next season -- will hit .252/.311/.414 in 2021, which would be solid production for a catcher but not close to what he's been producing in 2020.

But regardless of how things might shake out for d'Arnaud in 2021 and beyond and regardless of whether the Mets would've kept him beyond 2019 had they not DFA'd him, they simply have not earned the benefit of the doubt lately when it comes to player evaluation and decision-making.