Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Case for Promoting Francisco Alvarez

At the beginning of this season, I was convinced that the Mets should let their uber-prospect have the entire year in the minors. Now I'm beginning to see a path to the big leagues opening up for the young star.

When the year began, and Francisco Álvarez had an all-too-brief opportunity to participate in major league training camp, Francisco didn't hide his feelings that he was ready to play in the majors this season. Besides possessing a strong, mature body and an enviable work ethic, the young catcher also has a deep belief in his abilities that should stand him well. The physical and mental rigors and demands of being a major league catcher, along with the pressure cooker atmosphere of New York City, will provide plenty of tests of the young man's mettle.

I chuckled approvingly when I read his remarks, but I also hoped that the earliest we would see the young man would be if he earned a September callup. 2023 seemed a much more reasonable goal for Álvarez to challenge for the starting catching job. I hoped that the tandem of James McCann and Tomás Nido would perform well enough to obviate any need to rush Álvarez up to the bigs. The two have been mostly fine defensively, but neither has been able to contribute much with their bats. Now McCann will likely miss up to two months with an oblique strain. Nido exited last night's game with a bruised hand, and the Mets again depend on the overmatched Patrick Mazeika to handle significant playing time.

The Mets made a minor deal picking up catcher Michael Perez for cash from the Pirates. Although Perez has a reputation as a solid backstop, he has a lifetime slash line of .175/.244/.305 over 5 seasons split between Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. Perez has shown some power with the Pirates, hitting 13 HR in just under 350 PA. However, his batting average over the last 3 seasons is .150. There's a reason the Pirates DFA'd Perez. He's not going to help the Mets at all offensively beyond running into an occasional longball.

The bar might be low there, given how McCann and Nido have performed offensively this season, but McCann, in particular, has received high marks for how he's handled the pitching staff. Nido isn't up to McCann's level in this regard, but he's been serviceable. Mazeika seems like a good kid, but he's a huge step down as a receiver from James McCann. Patrick offers even less than McCann and Nido at the plate. He has put up an anemic .181/.234/.276 slash line over 138 lifetime PAs split between 2021 and this year. The Mets clearly don't want to navigate into September and possibly beyond with Mazeika in a vital role, so the pressure is on to find an upgrade.

Of course, the big name out there is Wilson Contreras of the Chicago Cubs. Although he isn't a Gold Glove-caliber receiver, Contreras is capable behind the place and a force with a bat in his hand. Wilson is a free agent after this season, so the thinking is that the Cubs will deal him for the right prospect package. Last year it cost the Mets their first-round selection Pete Crow-Armstrong to obtain two months of Javier Báez from the Cubs. That was not a good value for the Mets, especially given their hopes of someday possessing a productive farm system. But the word is out that the Cubs expect a top prospect in return for Contreras.

Really, there's no reason to expect the Cubs to trade a valuable asset like Contreras for a lesser value than Crow-Armstrong. I doubt they're particularly interested in a package built around Dom Smith and J.D. Davis. I know I wouldn't be if I were that team's GM. If I couldn't get a reasonably big prospect for Contreras, I would just pass and take my chances with a comp pick in next year's draft.

Even if we assume the Mets would be prepared to trade a prospect for whom they don't envision a Mets' future — Ronny Mauricio often gets tabbed in fan proposals for deals — it still doesn't make sense to deal a valuable chip for another two-month rental. The Mets may need to save a chip like Mauricio to trade for a starting pitcher before next season if they can't re-sign some of their free agents.

Given the sad state of catching in MLB as a whole, there aren't viable catchers floating around in the minors that would provide much of an upgrade to Mazeika and Perez. It's a seller's market out there for anything of value, which is why I'm sure the Cubs will demand a trade partner pay dearly for Wilson Contreras.

The ideal solution to the Mets' problem would be to have an internal option with more upside than Patrick Mazeika. Francisco Álvarez certainly fills that bill. Álvarez was ridiculously young for Double-A at only 20 years old, but he still dominated there and forced his way up to Triple-A Syracuse. His power is undeniable: in less than 300 PA in Binghamton, Francisco had 16 doubles and 18 home runs. The Mets could use some of that from their catchers.

Along with dynamic power at the plate, Álvarez has shown a more mature approach as he has come to understand which pitches to swing at and which to let pass. Francisco is receiving rave reviews for his improvements defensively and handling a pitching staff. While he certainly has more work to do to make himself into a major league-caliber backstop, Álvarez is a hard worker who seems to relish challenges.

I don't believe the Mets will call up Francisco Álvarez in the immediate future. He's only had 39 PAs over 9 games since his promotion to Triple-A Syracuse. Francisco is off to a predictably slow start in Syracuse with only 3 hits and 11 strikeouts in those 9 games. On the other hand, he has a couple of doubles and 8 walks, so it's not like Álvarez seems to be in over his head.

Depending on how things resolve with the Mets' current catching situation, particularly with James McCann's oblique, I'd watch if Álvarez put together a sustained hot streak over a couple of weeks in Syracuse. If we get to the second half of August and McCann still hasn't returned, Nido and Perez continue to live on the wrong side of the Mendoza line, and the Mets offense still needs some help, then I think the Mets' front office will be willing to roll the dice a bit with an Álvarez promotion. This would be provided they evaluate the young catcher as being reasonably prepared to compete against major league pitching.

It's a difficult call for a front office to promote a prospect to the majors in the heat of a pennant race. Fans are less patient with the inevitable growing pains that most first-time major leaguers experience. They're more willing to cut a young player a break early in the season. Plus, there are legitimate concerns that promoting a player who isn't quite ready can harm his development.

In the Wilpon years, I would be wary of the club making the decision to promote a player for the wrong reasons — to sell a few more tickets or save a few bucks on salary compared with trading for an established major leaguer. But I trust this leadership not to promote Álvarez unless he has a legitimate chance to contribute to this club. Also, from everything I read, Francisco has the right makeup and maturity level to handle the increased scrutiny. While not a certainty, I believe a big league promotion for Francisco Álvarez has a real chance of happening next month. I could see Álvarez getting reps at catcher and some right-handed DH at-bats, too.

The likeliness of this happening still depends on the answers to important questions:

  • Can Álvarez display some mastery of Triple-A pitching fairly soon? (This should help)
  • How long will James McCann's oblique keep him sidelined?
  • How bad is Nido's hand injury?
  • Can the Mets obtain another bat by the deadline?

The flat performance of the Mets' bats against Yu Darvish underscored the club's ongoing offensive struggles these last couple of months. The last 3 games in the series against the Cubs demonstrated that it doesn't take a former Cy Young winner like Darvish to silence Mets bats. I'm sure the front office will explore every feasible way to fortify the club's offense. The question of promoting Francisco Álvarez will just not go away short of an unlikely trade for Wilson Contreras.

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

(If you get the chance, please check out my earlier post from today. Thanks)


Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

2 comments:

  1. I don't see it this year. He's not on the 40 man so that means you lose somebody and start his clock. It's not a huge deal if you think he makes the team next year but it's something the front office has to consider. But more than that you have a veteran staff and Id think it would be an issue for both Max and Bassitt. I said last week I'd go for Contreras and Robertson. If you feel like you can win it all, you need to let the pro catchers handle the staff when it matters.

    It's gonna cost us prospects, that's the price you pay. I think, again, if you feel you can win you should do what you have to do. This is not the Wilpons, we will replenish as needed going forward. I would try to not lose Alvarez but everyone else is in play for the right deal. I'll take my chances with the big 3 assuming Jake is healthy.

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  2. I couldn't disagree with you more. If the Mets saw themselves as having a short window to compete, it might make sense to ship out top prospects for rentals. But I don't see them doing that. They need to explore other options. They also getting should be able to trade for relief help without giving up top prospects

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