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The Five Stages of Grief and Travis d’Arnaud

Let’s talk this out. I have feelings about Travis d’Arnaud.

Travis d’Arnaud by Arturo Pardavila III is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Five Stages of Grief and Travis d’Arnaud


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Estimated Reading Time: 12 Minutes

The Mets non-tendered Wilmer Flores this December, in a move that sent shockwaves through MetsTwitter. Videos of Wilmer’s heroics gained thousands of views, and heaped piles of likes and retweets, but isn’t that how you say goodbye to a fan favorite nowadays?

I always find myself going through the Five Stages of Grief when a favorite player of mine leaves town, either on their own volition or by the will of the team. Wilmer was no different.

First there’s Denial: “This is a rumor. This is nothing. This is a lie. No way. Why? Makes no sense.”

Then Anger: “WHY WOULD BRODIE DO THIS TO US? TO WILMER? WITHOUT WILMER WE DON’T MAKE IT TO THE 2015 WORLD SERIES! WILMER KNOWS HOW MUCH THIS TEAM MEANS TO US! WILMER IS THE BACKBONE OF THIS TEAM!”

Bargaining then steps up to the plate: “Brodie. You’re paying Todd Frazier and Juan Lagares a combined salary of over $15 million. Flores is a fifth of that. Please. Take them instead. I’ll never say a bad word about the Wilpons for as long as I live! I swear.”

Depression creeps in, once the bargaining talks break down: “Why am I watching videos of Wilmer crying on a loop? Is it because I don’t want to cry alone? My fiancée doesn’t get it. Only Wilmer understands me now.”

Soon Acceptance takes hold: “Okay, so he was non-tendered. So that must mean they’re freeing up payroll to make a run at Machado or Harper (please no, Brodie) or maybe they’re going to give deGrom his extension early. This could be good. And I mean, at the end of the day, are the 2019 Mets better with Flores on the bench? Probably not.”

A full circle of feelings about Wilmer. This is always where you want to end up.

With the tendered contract of Travis d’Arnaud, I stopped at anger. And I don’t think I’ll be able to get past it.

Travis d’Arnaud came to the Mets as the big piece in the trade that sent then Cy Young winner R. A. Dickey to Toronto. The Blue Jays seemed reluctant to move d’Arnaud as he was the future of the organization behind the plate. Sandy Alderson also had the forethought to attached a young pitching prospect to the deal. By seemingly misdirecting the Blue Jays with d’Arnuad, Alderson got Noah Syndergaard for a song.

d’Arnaud was always a highly touted prospect, but much like his brother Chase, he simply hasn’t been able to perform consistently at the big league level. Seriously. Travis d’Arnaud is a .245 career hitter who cannot throw out a runner at second base. That’s all you need to know.

So when the Mets tendered d’Arnaud a contract this offseason, I was in denial. D’Arnaud is about to be thirty years old, and has shown little to no signs of becoming the player we all thought he would become back in the 2012 offseason.

If anything, d’Arnaud has held onto his job due to a serious lack of competition, until this past year when Kevin Plawecki decided to put himself to the test. Sure he ended the season with a .210 average, but Plaw was also hampered by injur all season.

There’s also the fact that Plawecki is probably going to hit his peak as a backup catcher. To expect a ton of production out Plaw is a pipe dream. But then again, so is waiting for d’Arnaud to ascend to the All-Star caliber we thought he’d grow into. So now, as he heads towards age 30, the question becomes: how much longer do we give d’Arnaud to prove us wrong?

The answer should be “not very long.”

What should we realistically expect from Travis in 2019? At what point does d’Arnaud stop becoming “the catcher of the Future” in Queens, and “that catcher who was involved in two trades for Hall of Fame pitchers”? As of right now, he’s the latter masquerading as the former.

As an excerise, I’d like to walk through Travis d’Arnaud using those same stages of grief I went through with Flores. Yes, he’s still on the Mets roster (for now, more on that later), but I think it’s safe to say that d’Arnaud has caused a lot of grief, both for the Mets organization and the fans.

I said, that I couldn’t get past anger, but I’m going to try.

The Five Stage of Grief and Travis d’Arnaud

Stage 1: Denial

Travis d’Arnaud was traded for twice for two Cy Young winners: R.A. Dickey in 2012 and 2009 for Roy Halladay. To say the hopes were high on d’Arnaud would be an exaggeration.

d’Arnaud was drafted in the first round of the 2007 Amateur Draft, the third catcher to be taken off the board. Follwing behind guys like Matt Wieters and Devin Mesoraco, d’Arnaud was the youngest catcher to be drafted in the first round, with him and Mesoraco being drafted out of high school.

After bouncing around two minor league systems, d’Arnaud came into his own in 2012. In the Pacific Coast League, playing for the then Toronto owned Las Vegas 51s, d’Arnaud showed a lot of promise slashing .333/.380/.595, with a .975 OPS. In terms of hard numbered production, d’Arnaud smacked 93 hits, 21 for doubles, and 16 home runs, driving in 78 runs for Vegas.

Not a bad way to bring up your trade value. Not a bad way to prove your worth.

2013 would see similar results from d’Arnaud, as he went .304/.487/.554, with a 1.041 OPS in his time in Vegas. When the Mets placed John Buck on the paternity list, d’Arnaud was called up.

The following year would be d’Arnaud’s first full season with the Mets, making 2014 his second longest season played, appearing in 106 games. His .242/.302/.416 slash line didn’t instill the most confidence, but when your other catching options of Anthony Recker and Juan Centeno are hitting just above the Mendoza Line, .242 begins to look god-like.

Also at this point, the Mets haven’t had a solid dependable catcher since Paul LoDuca. With tenures from Rod Barajas and Brian Schneider, the Mets simply didn’t have the consistency they did in the mid-2000s. With Josh Thole sent to Toronto and a clear runway ahead of him, Travis was the future. I mean, he had to be, there simply weren’t many other options.

Stage Two: Anger

I’ve made the joke a lot both on here and on Twitter, that d’Arnaud is French for “Made of Glass.” That’s not a literal translation, but if just feels right.

Travis d’Arnaud has an aversion to health unparalleled on the New York Mets. Is that his fault? No, but still, Travis, come on. We can all point to the years under Ray Ramirez, and the poor communication within the organization, but the fact still remains that we haven’t seen Travis complete a full season.

Instead, we’ve had a carousel of catchers from Kevin Plawecki, Tomas Nido, José Lobaton, Rene Rivera, and Devin Mesoraco. I was big on Mesoraco after the Mets sent a beleaguered Matt Harvey to the Reds midseason. But instead of consistency, he brought more of the same.

And that’s because Devin Mesoraco is a cautionary tale of what could become of Travis d’Arnaud. After a breakout 2014 season, Mesoraco got injured. The next time he’d reach 60+ games would be his 66 games with the Mets in 2018. The Reds moved on to Tucker Barnhart, who has maintained the starting job behind the plate at Great American Ballpark.

The hard truth is that d’Arnaud has had the same trajectory, except with no one behind him as a better catching option. There’s been no one to make him better.

And shouldn’t we have known that Travis wasn’t getting better? Has the Mets #UnbridledOptimism blinded us so badly that we failed to see the writing on the wall? WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?!

Goddamnit.

Stage Three: Bargaining

There were times when d’Arnaud showed glimpses of that potential. In 2014, he found himself tied for 7th in Rookie of the Year voting, matching Jeurys Familia and Kyle Hendricks. Imagine if d’Arnaud kept on that trajectory. We wouldn’t be having this conversation. We’d probably be discussing his extension.

But here we are.

2014 was his year. Third on the Mets in Home Runs, tied for second in triples, second in slugging% and third in OPS.

So why can’t Travis do that now? Why can’t we have nice things?

This technically isn’t the way bargaining works, but I still gotta ask that question and hope there’s an answer out there.

Bargaining in this stage is more in the vein of “Take Eric Campbell instead!” or “I’d give Edwin Diaz for a catcher like Mike Piazza again.” But really, those are wishful and stupid things to say. Instead, let’s breeze on down to the next phase…

The only thing I can think of is this: I would give up Wilmer Flores’ walk off against the Nationals for a solid hitting and defensively sound Travis d’Arnaud.

I know that moment was the catalyst for the push to the postseason in 2015, and favorite moment for lots of us, but it’s the most valuable thing I can offer. Matt Williams would have tanked the Nationals, and the Mets would have still taken the division. That’s something I FIRMLY believe.

I’m willing to give up my favorite Mets moment for dependability behind the plate.

WOOF.

Stage Four: Depression

The 2015 World Series was not good for Travis, both at the plate and behind it. The .143/.143/.333 effort from d’Arnaud is putrid on any scale, but it was his defense that failed would ultimately fail the Mets.

In Game 1, with a 3-1 lead Lorenzo Cain made America very happy by stealing second base, winning free tacos for everyone. Cain wasn’t done yet. A Mike Moustakas single to Center would bring Cain in from second, bringing the Royals within one run, the score now settling at Mets 3, Royals 2.

In the ninth inning of Game 1, the Mets brought in Jeurys Familia to protect their 4-3 lead. Without Cain’s run, the Royals wouldn’t have pushed the game into extra innings, where they’d win it in 14 on an Eric Hosmer sac fly.

Over the next two games, the Royals would swipe 2 more bags from d’Arnaud, and two more games from the Mets.

Let’s Talk About Game 5

With the series on the line, the Mets send Matt Harvey to the hill in what would go down as one of the most thrilling Mets postseason pitching performances in recent memory.

Taking the hill in the 9th inning, with a 2-0 lead, Harvey walked Lorenzo Cain after taking the count full. This pitch could have been called a strike, and I say that knowing that hindsight is 20/20. At the end of the day, d’Arnaud fails to frame this crucial pitch. Honestly, it’s the kind fo frame job you’d expect from Gary Sanchez. There’s just no effort.

On the very next pitch, Cain took off. The throw from d’Arnaud is neither on time or on the bag and Cain is standing on second with no outs. On the very next pitch, Eric Hosmer hits a double over the head of Michael Conforto, bringing in Cain from second. The Mets now have a 2-1 lead. A Moustakas grounder to first moves Hosmer to third, with one out.

If Cain gets thrown out, Hosmer’s run at third brings them within one with two outs, which is a much easier situation to find your way out of. Instead, Hosmer is the tying run, 90 feet away from erasing the Mets lead.

The ensuing play then doesn’t matter, as the 5-3 put out to get Perez ends the game and the Mets head back to Kansas City within a game of catching the Royals.

Instead, Wright gets the throw to Lucas Duda who sails it past d’Arnaud, and just like that the game is tied.

Over the next three innings the Royals would steal three more bases off d’Arnaud, including one from Jarrod Dyson, who would be the first run to cross the plate in extras, cementing the Royals victory. That throw from d’Arnaud? Late and high. Nowhere close to getting Dyson.

Over the course of the 5 World Series games, the Royals were 7-for-7 on stolen bases.

I’m not saying that if Travis d’Arnaud was better the Mets would have a World Series ring. I’m just throwing it out there that they might have had a better shot without certain aspects of his game.

Are you depressed yet?

Stage Five: Acceptance

Within the next few months, we’re going to see a decision made about Travis d’Arnaud. Even though the club has tendered him a contract, they still have the option of cutting Travis at the end of Spring Training.

The contract the Mets tendered d’Arnaud has a stipulation that he must make the Opening Day roster in order to get that contract. If he doesn’t, the Mets can then cut him and only suffer paying 25% or 17% of his deal.

In the recent past, the Mets have had a few players coming into Spring Training with high hopes of making it to the big league club. Most notably, Dom Smith stumbled out of the gate in 2018, and now has a massive hole to dig himself out of before Peter Alonso takes his job.

Behind the dish, d’Arnaud will be more or less be competing for the backup gig right out of the gate. Wilson Ramos has the bat and the defense to earn the starting spot. Ramos is also very dependable and will more than likely get the starts for the Mets big arms. At the end of the day, Ramos is a lock to make the roster and start behind the plate on Opening Day.

The Race for Second Place

This is really a race for second place between d’Arnaud and Plawecki, and frankly, Plawecki is a much better option off the bench. Why? Because they both are reserve catchers, but Plawecki has shown to be much more durable.

Over their careers, Plawecki and d’Arnaud are both throwing out runnings below league average. Plaw throws out 23% of the runners who steal on him, while d’Arnaud has gunned down 21%, with the league average being 28%. The big difference between the two is passed balls.

Plawecki has played about half the number of games as d’Arnaud, which is to be expected for a backup catcher. However, in his career, Plawecki has 5 passed balls to his name. Even if you were to double that amount to match the number of games d’Arnaud has played, he’s still below 50% of the passed balls d’Arnaud has allowed. Travis d’Arnaud owns 22 passed balls in his 369 game career.

Also in their careers, Plawecki has thrown out 17 fewer runners (45 total) than d’Arnaud’s 62. That’s not good. That’s not good at all. Especially when you have 20% of your starting rotation are slow to the plate.

What this comes down to is a race for second place, because there’s simply no way the Mets start the season with three catchers on their Opening Day roster, not when they have question marks at first base and the outfield, straight out of the gate.

d’Arnaud is simply not the catcher and ballplayer we all want him to be. So rather than sit here and throw our hands in the air when he grounds into yet another double play in 2019, I think it’s best to grieve the loss now. It was a surprise they tendered him a contract this year, but it won’t be next year if/when they don’t.

It’s time to start the grieving process. It’ll be better for all of us.

…BUT

If he decides to change my mind, I would welcome that. Because much like Travis d’Arnaud every season, I am ready to be hurt again.

#UnbridledOptimism is a hell of a drug.

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