No matter what, Mets must keep rookie catcher Francisco Alvarez on the team
The discussion over the Mets catching situation is getting old fast, and it’s just about time to shift our focus for at least a few days to other New York baseball topics.
But first we should make one point clear: Under no circumstances should the team send rookie catcher Francisco Alvarez back down to Triple-A.
Forget the impressive bat for a moment. Offense is of secondary importance to the catching position -- so much so that you won’t find any of Alvarez’s numbers in this column. They’re mostly beside the point.
Alvarez should remain here, along with veteran Omar Narvaez once healthy, because of his work with the pitching staff.
There are two things that I hate doing in my coverage of the Yankees and Mets: Expressing an opinion and writing the word “I.” My role is to report information, not spout takes. But my reporting on the Mets catching over the past few weeks has led to a conclusion so clear that I’m going to go ahead and break both rules.
Shortly after the Mets placed Narvaez on the injured list and recalled Alvarez on April 7, I wrote that fellow catcher Tomas Nido gave the team a better chance to win than Alvarez. This was true at the time because folks with far better eyes than mine saw in Alvarez a strong work ethic but a need for improvement in calling games and working with the pitching staff.
Since then, we have witnessed remarkable growth. Some of the same people who gave Alvarez mixed reviews last month are now blown away by his progress. He had always been an excellent framer of pitches, but he has quickly developed a reputation among the staff as highly prepared and passionate about his partnership with the pitchers themselves.
As recently as last winter, one person close to Alvarez told me that he should move to first base and focus on his elite hitting skills. Now, that notion seems ridiculous.
With Mets pitchers throwing their support behind Alvarez, as we reported on Tuesday, who is anyone else to say that he won’t stick as a catcher -- and that he shouldn’t remain with the team through the coming roster crunch?
Previously, the easy move seemed to be to option Alvarez to Triple-A upon Narvaez’s return, which is expected to come in less than three weeks (Nido is starting a rehab assignment, but his timetable to return from the injured list after correcting a vision issue is less certain).
Now, the lowest stakes roster move would be to option Mark Vientos and see if Gary Sanchez’s bat can come alive as a DH and bench option for manager Buck Showalter. If Sanchez does not hit, the Mets can cut him and Vientos can easily return. Easy peasy.
Nido is a tougher case. The Mets just signed him to a two-year deal and genuinely value his defense. He does not have options. I’m glad I’m not the person who has to figure out what to do with him.
But any way the Mets slice it, Alvarez has to stay. His “want to,” as Showalter likes to say, is as strong as anyone’s, and his performance is following suit. He has won over an opinionated, sometimes curmudgeonly veteran pitching staff. And he is beloved among the paying customers.
This discussion should be over. If the Mets want to avoid unrest in the clubhouse and stands -- and, more importantly, win as many games as possible -- the team has to keep Alvarez.
If the pitchers believe this, who am I to say otherwise?