On Trading Travis d’Arnaud

A lot of chatter today about the Mets possibly moving Travis d’Arnaud in a deal for Brewers All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy. 

Before weighing in as for or against the deal, we’ve got to take a look and see what the Mets have in d’Arnaud and what the Brewers have in Lucroy.

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Travis d’Arnaud, the Mets catcher, is a young, above-replacement player who doesn’t reach free agency until after the 2020 season. He’s currently in his final pre-arbitration year and next year begins to see modest raises. Even if he doesn’t get much better, that’s a nice chip to have.

However the Mets and their fans have long expected more out of d’Arnaud than we have seen so far. d’Arnaud, who is 27, has a career major league slash line of .245/.311/.407 (103 wRC+) and this year is hitting only .246/.302/.339 (78 wRC+). This, of course, is only when d’Arnaud is playing, and he is often injured. He’s only appeared in 34 games this year for the Mets, and has suffered injury every year. He played in only 79 games last year, 126 the year before, and fewer than 70 games each of the two years prior.

It may be that d’Arnaud can put together a full season in line with that we saw last year, when he hit .268/.340/.485 (131 wRC+) and posted 2.3 WAR in less than half a season, but banking on d’Arnaud’s health and productivity will always be a calculated risk.

Jonathan Lucroy, on the other hand, is an established high-quality player under contract through next year at only $5.2 million. Lucroy, who is 30, has hit .292/.354/.461 (120 wRC+) since Opening Day 2012 and this year is hitting a typical .302/.362/.494 (12e wRC+). Over the four years prior to this season, he’s only failed to post 3.5 WAR  once, and topped out at 6.1 WAR. He’s already at 2.7 WAR this year.

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Thanks to the contract situation, Lucroy is not merely a rental and will help the Mets in 2017, should they acquire him. However, that year of cheap control will cost the team that acquires him more in prospects or cash.

What you think of this proposed deal for Lucroy will primarily be influenced by what you think of d’Arnaud and what you think of the Mets chances this year. For instance, if you think d’Arnaud is capable of remaining healthy and hitting close to how he did in 2015, you’re likely going to value his years of team control above whatever improvement Lucroy might bring.

I believe d’Arnaud will be a fine major leaguer. His components this year are fine; he’s walking 7% of the time and has actually reduced his strikeout rate to 14.7%. His defensive statistics on Fangraphs indicate that he’s doing a fine job behind the plate. Even his underlying indicators like hard hit rate (a healthy 30%) and swinging strike rate (only 7%) seem to say he’s a little better than he appears from this year’s paltry stat line.

Nonetheless, if the Mets at 52-45 and 40.2% playoff odds are going to go for it this year, it would be hard to imagine many better moves than swapping d’Arnaud for Lucroy, who bats cleanup for the Brewers. Lucroy, who has nearly the same on-base percentage against LHP and RHP, would be a good every day fit for the Mets, whose offense is fairly well-balanced against both sides. Adding Lucroy would have an immediate trickle-down effect on the lineup, allowing players like Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilmer Flores to extend the lineup rather than being asked to carry the load.

I would not package d’Arnaud and a premium prospect like Amed Rosario for Lucroy, but as most readers know, I am already on the fence about whether the Mets should be trying to contend at all. But if the price is somewhat cheaper, perhaps d’Arnaud and a lesser prospect like Gavin Cecchini, the Mets may be able to change their playoff destiny dramatically overnight.