As a Mets fan, it’s rare we confidently come into a new season with legitimate hope. Weeks away from the start of Spring Training and my daily happiness from another box score, I ventured back and rewatched a cinema classic - Major League.
This movie is the perfect parallel for the Mets’ catchers in 2023.
For those who haven’t seen the 1989 award-winning film, take the 100-plus minutes to see the Best Foreign Language Film nominee in the 1990 Award of the Japanese Academy...I kid because I love.
I forgot how painful watching the love story surrounding our No.1 catcher Jake Taylor. It’s almost as painful as losing the legend of Patrick Mazieka and all that he brought to last year’s team. As cynical as that may sound, there were a few times when Mazieka etched his name into the long list of random players with a standout moment that will last forever.
Wilmer Flores, anyone?
But it also speaks to the offensive woes from those behind the plate. Last season, James McCann was supposed to have a bounce back year after hitting .232 with just ten home runs in 2021. I only mention home runs because that was supposed to be his biggest strength, wasn’t it? Makes no difference since two prolonged stints on the IL and a paltry .195 batting average when he was healthy meant the Mets were right to look for someone new.
Enter Omar Narváez on a two-year, $15 million deal and while he wasn’t in a ratty Mexican hotel when the deal was initially offered, his contract is far more than the league minimum salary Jake Taylor got from Cleveland general manager Charlie Donovan. However, I see Mets’ manager Buck Showalter mimicking Lou Brown from the movie when he asked,
“How’s the knees holding up? No trouble with the throw to second? I need a catcher, Jake. Someone who can lead this team on the field.”
Narváez hit .206 last year, but was an All-Star in Milwaukee back in 2021 and hit 22 homers for Seattle in 2019. I can hear the coaches talking about Taylor as he arrives at camp. They didn’t have him four years ago, but the Mets did have Tomas Nido. He’s not going anywhere after signing a two-year deal for $3.7 million, meaning he’ll be in place when the position is turned over to Francisco Álvarez.
Álvarez, the 21-year old top rated prospect, is projected through the roof. He hit his first MLB home run during a five-game call up last year. He also only had one other hit in 12 at-bats and has never been lauded for his defense behind the plate. That a rookie catcher would anchor this ‘veteran’ (read old) team makes little sense. Especially since it goes against the quietly woven-in team motto of defense first.
It’s not talked about much, but the 2022 Mets committed only 67 errors, good for second in the league behind St. Louis at 66. The St. Louis Cardinals’ fielding percentage of .989 was also a league best with the Mets a close second at .988. I use these defensive statistics because I don’t know how to quantify feeling comfortable and confident for 162 games if a ground ball was hit on the infield.
Nido started 98 of those games and while he only hit .239 batting at the bottom of the order; however he did tie for the league lead with 12 sacrifice bunts. That might not sound like much, but the Mets’ strength was the top of their lineup. Nido moving a runner into scoring position is a small team-first move that is easily overlooked.
What couldn’t be overlooked was the number of times Nido was shaken off by starting pitcher Chris Bassett. Turns out, six to eight weeks in the spring wasn’t enough time for a guy with a seven-pitch arsenal to get on the same page with his catcher. But once they did, Bassett had a good season like the rest of the pitching staff. How much credit goes to Nido when the team finishes seventh in ERA and allows 428 walks, fourth least in the league?
When Jake Taylor arrives in Cleveland after making the team, he enters an empty stadium and hits a mythical home run to a cheering crowd. It’s as mythical as the home run that would have beat the Atlanta Braves at the end of September or San Diego in October. More offense from the catcher position would be ideal, but having a leader for this veteran pitching staff is more important.
Two defensive-first catchers as tutors for the youngest player in the majors last year is also important. Maybe they’ll mimic the following scene somewhere soon; all three together and Narváez lifts his cup for a toast.
“Here’s to baseball and the start of two new great careers. And for me, here’s to one more good year in the sun.”