When the New York Mets traded Matt Harvey for Devin Mesoraco they acquired a player similar to one they already have.
Baseball is a game of timing. Struggle is often the forebearer of opportunity. One team’s besieged castoff becomes another’s welcomed replacement. When the New York Mets traded beleaguered pitcher Matt Harvey to the Cincinnati Reds for catcher Devin Mesoraco, two players got a welcomed change of scenery.
That said, the Mets may have also traded for the doppelganger of a player they already have—Travis d’Arnaud.
Matt Harvey burst onto the scene in 2012 like Batman from his lair, but injuries robbed him of the zip on his fastball. Likewise, Devin Mesoraco took the National League by storm in 2014 until injuries stole the pop from his bat.
Mesoraco was deemed expendable by the Reds after Tucker Barnhart earned a Gold Glove Award behind the plate in 2017. The Reds grew frustrated with his inability to stay on the field. The same can be said for the Mets and Travis d’Arnaud.
Though there is little argument that the Mets answered a need in getting Mesoraco, they may have acquired a problem they already have, a catcher who can’t stay on the field.
While he gets a new start and a chance to resurrect his career, Mesoraco’s trajectory in many ways resembles that of the injured d’Arnaud. Like d’Arnaud, Mesoraco was taken in the first round of the 2007 draft.
Similarly, Mesoraco was also a blue-chip prospect whose career has been derailed by multiple injuries. Both have shown that when healthy they can provide pop from behind the plate. However, both have seldom been able to stay healthy.
Mesoraco comes to New York with an opportunity to resurrect his career with the Mets and get the playing time he was lacking in Cincinnati. Yet the question is whether the Mets have solved their durability problem at catcher.
d’Arnaud began this season splitting time behind the plate with Kevin Plawecki before the injury bug struck again. His future with the Mets is now tenuous after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Since debuting with the Mets in 2013, d’Arnaud has made seven separate trips to the disabled list and had multiple seasons derailed by injury. Mesoraco has endured a similar fate.
He can’t help the Mets if he can’t stay on the field.
Last season Mesoraco was on the disabled list three separate times. Right hip surgery delayed his 2017 debut until Apr. 28. A shoulder strain cost him nearly half of July, while a broken left foot finally ended his season in mid-August. Overall, he appeared in just 56 games and hit .213 with a .711 OPS.
That continued a troubling trend. Left hip surgery had already cost him all but 23 games in 2015 while a torn labrum held him to just 18 games in 2016.
Still, acquiring Mesoraco did fill a need for the Mets.
After d’Arnaud was lost for the season, Plawecki also landed on the disabled list with a broken hand. The Mets catching situation was in shambles. Their replacements, veteran Jose Lobaton and rookie Tomas Nido were both hitting under .200. They were non-factors.
Hitting either in front of the pitcher severely shortened the Mets lineup. Despite their struggles, d’Arnaud and to a lesser extent, Plawecki, gave the Mets a capable MLB bat at the bottom of the order. Mesoraco has the chance, if healthy, to fill that void.
In 2014, Mesoraco appeared in 114 games, hitting .273 with a .543 slugging percentage, a .893 OPS and a 147 OPS+. He led all Major League catchers with 25 home runs and 80 RBI in just 384 at-bats. Even during that breakout season, he made two trips to the DL.
Since then, he’s played in a total of 116 games, hitting just .192 with a .608 OPS and 62 OPS+.
Unlike d’Arnaud, his injuries have not impacted his defense. Mesoraco’s injury was to his non-throwing shoulder, while d’Arnaud’s bad right elbow impacted his ability to throw out baserunners.
Over the last two seasons, d’Arnaud has thrown out just 16 percent of base-stealers. Known as an average defensive catcher, Mesoraco has thrown out one-quarter of the baserunners attempting to steal over his career.
Like d’Arnaud, few in baseball question Mesoraco’s raw talent. Whether he endures the same fate as Travis or uses this opportunity to reinvigorate a fledgling career has a lot to do with luck, health, and durability, the same quandary that landed the Mets in this catching pickle in the first place.
Now with d’Arnaud’s career is in dire straits Mesoraco has the chance to resurrect his.