In approximately 16 days, pitchers and catchers will report to Port St. Lucie for Spring Training. If you add approximately 16 to Travis d’Arnaud’s number, at least before today’s low-key announcement that he would trade numbers with Bob Geren and take number seven, he would wear Mike Piazza’s digits on his back.
Not that I mean to compare them.
With Spring Training only one more than Travis d’Arnaud’s jersey number of days away, I felt it appropriate to look in on Travis d’Arnaud, the impact he can bring to the proverbial table in 2015, and above all, his boyish, fun-loving attitude.
Or at least I hope.
When Travis d’Arnaud made his MLB debut, he immediately inspired a legion of doubters, as he started his career 0 for 10. Indeed, the doubters persist today: d’Arnaud’s contributions so far, and his future as the Mets starting catcher, especially with Kevin Plawecki waiting in the eternally notorious wings, has been debated.
Many people don’t remember that Mike Piazza, in his first season, was no immediate success: in 21 games, Piazza batted .232. This is not – I repeat, I am not doing this, so please don’t criticize me for doing it, because I’m not, I can’t stress this part enough – to compare Mike Piazza to Travis d’Arnaud. For one thing, Piazza’s back probably had much more acne. But still.
With the seemingly endless procession of backups, journeymen, and career minor leaguers policing behind the plate – since 2009, the Mets have used fifteen different catchers – Mets fans have forgotten the true excitement of having a bad-ass offensive catcher. On October 2nd, 2005, the baddest-ass offensive catcher in the history of the game walked away from the Mets after seven-plus years near or at the top of his game. Two years later, a moderately bad-ass offensive catcher departed similarly. Since then, our starting catchers have been offensively debilitated Brian Schneider, three-day wonder Omir Santos, sporadic sparkplug Rod Barajas, eternally mediocre Josh Thole, and somewhat exciting John Buck. And then, finally, in came Travis.
D’Arnaud did not hit well in the first half of 2014 – that’s no secret, and it shouldn’t be ignored. However, equally important is the fact that after his return from Vegas, and the tutelage of Wally Backman, Travis, whose first name I use as a sign of brotherly respect, tore it up, hitting .272 with ten home runs. He also improved in various advanced stats, all of which have names like bURp, and which will not be further discussed here. But if should suffice to say that in the second half of the season, Travis d’Arnaud was one of the better offensive catchers in the league.
You heard that correctly: for almost half a season, the Mets had a player who, for his position, was undeniably one of the better players in the league.
Let’s be honest: besides David Wright, when was the last time we could say that with absolute certainty about any position player, and moreover, any position player who was young, projectable, and under team control? It hasn’t happened until recently, but quite recently, it has happened quite a lot: Wheeler, d’Arnaud, Harvey, Lagares, deGrom, Duda, Murphy…the list goes on, which is why, when I look beyond the pessisism and unbridled despair of Mets fans far and wide, I see a season with genuine potential for success.
This is not to condone what the Wilpon family has reduced our beloved franchise to – what they have done is downright criminal, and although some of their past actions have been debatably justifiable, their recent commitment to malls instead of Mets has just gone to prove that they just don’t care. But Sandy Alderson, despite some dubious decisions, has slowly rebuilt the team, despite the Wilpons’ best effors, and now – admittedly, some four years after the rebuild was supposed to end – the Mets, despite the pessimism that six consecutive losing seasons brings, are genuinely poised to make a run at serious October competition.
So why do I believe in 2015? I believe because the Mets are young, restless, and rearing to go. I believe because Michael Cuddyer, if, knock on wood, his body holds up, will be one of the best offensive outfielders the Mets have had in years. I believe because the pieces for success are all in place, and if they fall the right way, there’s no reason that we can’t succeed, or at least make a run at succeeding. In short, success is by no means guaranteed, but we’ve got youth with the energy to go out there and take it. And it all starts with the man behind the mask, Travis d’Arnaud.