Friday, May 13, 2022

The Mets Can't Just Cross Their Fingers Waiting for McCann to Return

James McCann's wrist injury means the Mets just took a hit at their most vulnerable position.

The Mets have just suffered a serious injury setback with the news that catcher James McCann suffered a fractured hamate bone in his left wrist and will miss around 6 weeks. The lack of depth at catcher has been a concern since the spring, and 6 weeks is a large chunk of the baseball season. McCann wasn't producing much offensively but seemed to be coming around a bit before this injury.

While Tomás Nido is a more than capable substitute defensively, his offensive production is woeful. This season, Nido has a slash line of .204/.200/.245, good for an OPS+ of 31. Nido made changes to his swing that looked promising in minimal action in 2020, but his combined slash line in 2021 and this season is .218/.246/.307 with an OPS+ of 54. That's actually a few ticks worse than Doug Flynn's career OPS+ of 58.

Of course, in McCann's absence, Tomás Nido doesn't need to produce much offense to make him valuable to the Mets. What's more worrisome is that his backup will be Patrick Mazeika. Mazeika was a nice story for about 5 minutes in 2021 with a couple of game-winning swinging bunts, but his OPS+ was 44 over 87 plate appearances, and he was a sub-par receiver. Manager Buck Showalter keeps his players fresh by giving them off days, but he probably would want to give Mazeika as few starts as possible in McCann's absence.

Outside of the improbable chance that Patrick Mazeika has made significant improvements as a catcher and at the plate since last year, it seems likely that the Mets will need to find a better backup catcher on baseball's scrap heap. Neither of the catchers left in Syracuse, Nick Dini or Nick Meyer, offers significant MLB experience. From what I read, Meyer is a more likely promotion than Dini. Whether the Mets see enough upside to merit giving him a spot on the 40-man roster is a question only they can answer.

Going down a level to Binghamton, uber-prospect Francisco Álvarez got off to a blazing hot start. Any small temptation the Mets may have had to promote him to the major league club likely vanished as Álvarez went into a protracted slump. Francisco clearly (and quite understandably) needs some time to adjust to Double-A. He's only 20 years old, after all. Jarred Kelenic's struggles with the Mariners demonstrate that it's better to be a little over-cautious with a prospect rather than push a kid too hard, too fast. Álvarez needs to keep working on his offense and defense right where he is.

One prospect in Binghamton that the Mets might actually consider bringing up is Hayden Senger. Senger was drafted out of college and is 25. Senger is also, by all accounts, a polished defensive backstop. However, he is likely to be even more overmatched in the bigs than Mazeika as a hitter. Still, if Mazeika struggles in a backup role to Nido, Senger is a possibility to replace him.

I would hope that the club is exploring other options right now. I understand, however, that any club willing to trade a decent catcher in-season will likely demand the moon and stars in return. Given the overall low quality of catchers in MLB these days, it will be tricky for the Mets to find a catcher not already on any team's 26-man roster who would be much of an upgrade over Mazeika. Still, I can't imagine the Steve Cohen-owned Mets sitting on their hands and crossing their fingers, waiting for McCann to return.

That wrist injury is likely to hamper McCann significantly even after he returns. Six weeks is an eternity in an MLB season. An obvious question here is, what if something happens to Tomás Nido? It would be a catastrophe. I really think the Mets will need to make some sort of move here beyond the short-term move of promoting Mazeika. I'm not sure what move makes sense with McCann coming back in July and under contract for 2 more seasons and Francisco Álvarez waiting in the wings. However, at the very least, finding some more plausible depth at catcher would seem to be an urgent necessity.

Please be well and take care. Let's go Mets!

Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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