Mets’ major Francisco Alvarez question comes with complex answers

4 days ago 4

The Mets — wellness permitting, of people — person a precise overmuch locked-in roster.

There are immoderate questions astir which optional relievers volition capable the bullpen’s backmost extremity and if they mightiness adhd a 2nd lefty to articulation Brooks Raley. But the main pitchers and hitters are set, befitting a squad that projects to person an MLB-smashing $365 cardinal payroll (for luxury-tax purposes), earlier adjacent calculating the tax.

The lone important enigma is whether young catcher Francisco Alvarez tin marque an interaction from the outset and, if so, successful what role. In galore ways, that revolves astir this issue: Are the Mets conscionable saying they judge successful Alvarez arsenic a defender contempt loads of manufacture doubt, oregon bash they truly judge it?

Because it isn’t arsenic if the Mets opened an unimpeded pathway for Alvarez to drawback successful 2023. Yes, they traded James McCann, who was nether declaration done adjacent play — and paid astir 80 percent of the $24 cardinal helium was owed to facilitate the woody to Baltimore. But past they signed 2 catchers done adjacent year. Free cause Omar Narvaez has a subordinate option for 2024. Tomas Nido was signed for the past 2 years of Mets squad control.

So bash words and actions jibe? Billy Eppler insists they do.

“Yes, I judge helium is simply a catcher,” the Mets wide manager said by phone. “Because I person in-house information that shows betterment and beardown receiving quality from Double-A, and that it was bully from his constricted clip astatine Triple-A.”

MetsFrancisco Alvarez successful the Mets dugout during their playoff nonaccomplishment to the Padres.Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Saying helium “does not judge successful absolutes,” Eppler would not disregard Alvarez making the Mets retired of outpouring training, with the nine carrying 3 catchers. The equilibrium would beryllium to marque definite that Alvarez catches capable (say doubly a week) to support his progression going successful that country portion besides utilizing him a fewer times a week arsenic the designated hitter. For that script to play out, Alvarez astir surely would person to nutrient a outpouring grooming of large at-bats portion showing continuing catching maturity.

But what if it is conscionable the bat? What is the balancing enactment for a contender betwixt utilizing that instrumentality successful the majors versus wanting to proceed to enactment connected the defense?

“I’m not going to accidental 1 mode oregon the other; I wouldn’t accidental if I thought his bat was ready,” Eppler said. “I’m going to fto clip and the process of valuation organically let that to happen.”

But due to the fact that helium runs shot operations for the astir all-in squad of 2023, Eppler could not gamble connected Alvarez’s wide readiness. So the Mets constructed a lefty-righty hitting tandem with beardown catching skills successful Narvaez and Nido. The manufacture is pitch-frame obsessed capable that the Mets cognize they tin ever commercialized the inexpensive Nido (two years astatine $3.7 million) if Alvarez earns a larger portion of the catching.

The biggest impediment to Alvarez mightiness not beryllium Naravez and Nido anyway. It mightiness beryllium an age-old issue. Alvarez volition play the 2023 play astatine 21. Since 1937, conscionable 7 men 21 oregon younger person started astatine slightest 100 games successful an MLB play astatine catcher: Joe Torre (1961), Tim McCarver (1963), Bob Didier (1969), Johnny Bench (1968-69), Ted Simmons (1971), Butch Wynegar (1976-77) and Ivan Rodriguez (1992-93). So 3 of the past 4 to bash truthful are Hall of Famers (Bench, Simmons and Rodriguez), and it has not been done successful 3 decades.

MetsFrancisco Alvarez of the Mets watches his solo location tally successful the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals.Getty Images

And that comes astatine a clip erstwhile much has been enactment connected catchers than ever — notably much individualized plans to onslaught each hitter and greater transportation velocity and question to grip and contiguous arsenic strikes. Eppler began increasing into a beardown proponent of framing erstwhile helium saw pitchers gravitate to Jose Molina implicit Jorge Posada from 2007-09 erstwhile helium was with the Yankees. As an adjunct GM to Brian Cashman aft the 2010 season, Eppler pushed heavy for the Yankees to motion Russell Martin due to the fact that of his catching savvy.

Perhaps the Mets could slow-play Alvarez into adjacent year. The owners are apt to approve, during their meetings adjacent month, installing the automated ball/strike strategy successful each Triple-A venues. If that proceedings goes well, determination volition beryllium a accidental for robot umps successful the majors successful 2024. In that case, the value of crippled calling and throwing would turn successful magnitude, since framing would person nary bearing connected a robot ump. That would region immoderate value from a young, increasing catcher.

Or is Alvarez the uncommon catcher, similar Bench oregon Rodriguez, who tin grip astatine this property a presumption that Eppler said “has the astir work connected the field” — and bash it for the astir costly squad ever?