Mets Travis d’Arnaud Suffers Setback – Time To Move On?

Apr 24, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Mets injured catcher Travis d
Apr 24, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Mets injured catcher Travis d /

Travis d’Arnaud is hurt again. With the team in a dog-fight for the NL East, is it time for the Mets to move on from the oft-injured catcher?

Mets’ catcher Travis d’Arnaud has suffered a setback in his rehab and will be out indefinitely.  D’Arnaud was working his way back from the strained rotator cuff that forced him onto the disabled list on April 26th.  As he tried to throw for the first time since the injury, he experienced some discomfort, forcing the training staff to shut his session down and back up his rehab. There is no longer any timetable for his return, as only time will tell when the shoulder will be strong enough to start throwing again, let alone play in any games.

It’s not the first time the Mets haven’t been able to rely on the backstop, as he’s faced injury throughout his career.

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When the Philadelphia Phillies drafted d’Arnaud at the end of the first round in 2007, they selected a player with plus defensive skills and an improving approach at the plate.  He was the second prep catcher off the board (behind Devin Mesoraco) and they hoped his bat would eventually develop, knowing the defense would be there to fall back on if it failed.  His arm was described on draft day as a “weapon behind the plate”, and he had above-average defensive skills across the board.

What they got, was more than they could have hoped that late in the round.  d’Arnaud took off in the minors, slashing .305/.367/.464 in 2008, though he missed some time with a concussion. He smacked 13 home runs in 2009, continuing to develop his power stroke and pushing him onto the back end of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects before the 2010 season.

When the Phillies targeted Toronto ace Roy Halladay in December of ’09, new Blue Jay GM Alex Anthopolous demanded d’Arnaud be in the deal. After the move to Toronto, d’Arnaud would begin on his long road of injury, suffering a herniated disc in his back in 2010 that limited him to just 71 games. His promise was still there, and this was just a setback for a 21-year old who was on a solid developmental path.

d’Arnaud was healthy before the start of 2011, and Baseball America (who seemed to be bullish on d’Arnaud from an early age) put him all the way up at 36 on their prospect list.  d’Arnaud put together a great season despite suffering another early concussion, playing in 114 games and slashing .311/.371/.542 with 21 home runs for AA New Hampshire. All of the hype seemed deserved, and d’Arnaud was another good season away from making the majors, as incumbent J.P. Arencibia had not performed well in his rookie year.


Injury History

2008: Head
2010: Back
2011: Head
2012: Knee
2013: Foot
2014: Head, Elbow
2015: Hand, Elbow
2016: Shoulder

2012 started, and d’Arnaud was off to another hot start before he suffered a season-ending PCL tear while sliding into second base.  Originally thought of as just a 6-8 week rehab because he was avoiding surgery, the Blue Jays decided to shut him down completely.  At the end of the year, another team decided that d’Arnaud was worth a Cy Young winner and he was traded to the New York Mets for R.A. Dickey.

Mets’ fans rejoiced, they finally had their catcher-of-the-future (not to mention future uber-ace in Noah Syndergaard). After watching players like Josh Thole, Rod Barajas, Omir Santos and Brian Schneider behind the plate for years, d’Arnaud represented the best option since Mike Piazza graced the dish. 2013 carried much of the same though, as d’Arnaud suffered a non-displaced fracture of his left foot that left him in a walking boot for more than eight weeks.  d’Arnaud kept showing how promising he was as a hitter and catcher but couldn’t stay on the field to save his life.

2014 was actually a promising one for d’Arnaud, despite hitting the disabled list for a concussion in May (the third of his professional career), and being shut down in late September to undergo bone-chip surgery on his throwing elbow. In the time between injuries he showed his amazing talent, finishing as an above-average hitter on the season with the solid defense that he’d always had. He played in 123 games that season across three levels, the most since his 2009.

Last season the Mets were a good team off to a hot start in April when – stop me if you’ve heard this before – d’Arnaud hit the disabled list again with a broken hand. Coming back in June, he only played in 8 games before going right back on with a strained left elbow.  His 2015 was limited to 67 games, though he started all 14 playoff games on the Mets’ magical run to the World Series.

Again, he was one of the Mets’ best offensive performers when he was healthy, and finished the season with an .825 OPS – a number that would put him behind only Buster Posey for catchers with over 200 plate appearances (Kyle Schwarber also actually had an .849 in his C/OF split duty).

After another injury, this one to his extremely important throwing shoulder, d’Arnaud is now a 27-year old with only 769 MLB at bats.  Everyone knows that he could be a great player, but he’s closing in on the normal decline phase of a major leaguer’s career and has had major  injuries to all parts of his body – foot, hand, head, knee, shoulder, elbow, and back. It makes one question whether the Mets can rely on their not-so-young catcher while they traverse the next few years.  They’ve put together an all-world pitching staff, but haven’t been able to have any consistency behind the plate.  For any team, let alone one contending for World Series, catcher is a vital position.

The problem is, the presence of d’Arnaud has kept the Mets from making any real acquisitions behind the plate. Kevin Plawecki, once a solid catching prospect in his own right was rushed to the bigs last year despite struggling at AAA Las Vegas.  Plawecki has shown no ability to hit at the major league level, and should not be starting on a team trying to win the NL East. Rene Rivera, a 32-year old career backup was added this offseason to try and allow Plawecki to get some more seasoning in the minors, though by now the Mets should have learned their lesson with d’Arnaud.

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Now they have to make a decision on whether or not to bring in an outside presence, because this is a team that could go all the way to the World Series once again. They have a young, controllable stable of ace-pitchers and they need someone to grow and work with them on a full-time basis. Even if d’Arnaud comes back at some point this season swinging a hot stick, you have to question if the Mets’ can count on him being there when they really need it, or whether his career is another one that will be lost to injury.