How the Mets hope Omar Narvaez fits their catcher rotation that has one major variable
By Mike Puma,
Francisco Alvarez’s elevation to the Mets roster for the final week of last regular season and the NL wild-card series fueled the notion the rookie is ready for regular catching duties with the club in 2023.
While that still could be the case , team brass wisely understood the need for another plan in case the 21-year-old top prospect won’t be prepared by the end of spring training for all that is involved with handling a veteran pitching staff.
Enter Omar Narvaez, who arrived in December on a one-year contract worth $8 million that contains a $7 million player option for 2024. Narvaez, who turns 31 next week, can split duties with Tomas Nido and give the Mets a left/right combination offensively that plays to each’s strength.
“With [Narvaez] and Tomas, we have two guys in the top 10 in receiving , and Omar is just a good caller of the game, a good receiver, he comes with a real good reputation for working with pitchers and it’s a left-handed bat,” manager Buck Showalter told Post Sports+ recently.
Narvaez’s offensive numbers last season with the Brewers were by any measure a disappointment: He owned a .206/.292/.305 slash line with four homers and 23 RBIs in 296 plate appearances. But before anybody equates Narvaez to a left-handed hitting James McCann — who was traded to the Orioles after a disappointing two-year stint in Queens — there is hope the rule changes implemented this season that ban dramatic infield shifts will resurrect Narvaez’s offense. Narvaez was selected to the National League All-Star team with the Brewers in 2021, when he produced a respectable .743 OPS.
“A lot of his offense we think is going to benefit with the non-shift,” Showalter said. “I think some of the balls that he puts in play have a chance to be hits now.”
McCann’s struggles frustrated team officials to the point the Mets were willing to eat roughly $19 million in unloading him. The four-year contract worth $40.5 million he received before the 2021 season was a significant whiff by former team president Sandy Alderson during one of his multiple stretches overseeing baseball operations following Steve Cohen’s purchase of the club.
Nido’s emergence over the past few seasons as a dependable alternative has been a plus, but for a championship-level team, he’s likely best suited for a job share. And Alvarez’s offensive upside is too great to be ignored, leaving the rookie squarely in the conversation as the opening of camp approaches in less than two weeks.
“There’s a way to carry Alvarez on the club with the other two guys and there’s a way for him to go down below,” Showalter said. “When we get to spring training we’ll sort it out.”
After a drought at the position, there is no shortage of catchers in the organization. In addition to Narvaez, Nido and Alvarez, the Mets have a highly regarded catcher in Kevin Parada, a first-round draft pick last summer from Georgia Tech. The Mets’ top addition during last month’s international signing period was also a catcher: Daiverson Gutierrez, a 17-year-old Venezuelan.
Narvaez is expected to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, limiting his exposure to his new Mets pitchers during camp. But Narvaez was hoping an early report to spring training would help compensate.
Another lefty left?
The free-agent market includes Andrew Chafin and Zack Britton, but at this point the Mets may head to spring training with Brooks Raley as the lone left-handed reliever on a major league contract.
Mets general manager Billy Eppler hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a left-handed addition, but David Robertson’s success against lefties is a factor the GM has taken into account. Eppler worked in the Yankees front office during Robertson’s tenure with the team and recalled conversations with manager Joe Girardi about the right-hander serving as essentially another lefty.
As it stands, the Mets’ bullpen core consists of Robertson, Raley, Edwin Diaz, Adam Ottavino and Drew Smith.
“I feel good about our bullpen,” Eppler said. “At the end of the day, what we would love to have is five high-leverage relievers. I think we have identified five high-leverage relievers. And that helps you over 162 games so you don’t run into those days — it doesn’t mean you can’t — but it’s less likely to run into the days when four are down on the same day. That’s tough when you want to navigate this full season, this full calendar.”
A Zach Greene scouting report
Relief pitcher Zach Greene may have an inside track on a roster spot to begin the season given he was selected by the Mets in the Rule 5 draft . If the right-hander doesn’t stick on the 26-man roster, he must be offered back to the Yankees. Over the past decade-plus, the Mets have brought players such as Kyle Dowdy, Sean Gilmartin, Pedro Beato and Brad Emaus to spring training after they were selected in the Rule 5 draft. The lefty Gilmartin was the most noteworthy of that group, appearing in 50 games for the Mets in 2015.
Greene, 26, appeared in 48 games last season for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and pitched to a 3.42 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings.
“It’s not overly high velocity, but it’s really good stuff, so he is one of those guys, a strike thrower, can strike some guys out,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said. “There’s some deceptiveness to him, so we’re going to get a really good look at him in spring training. This is the type of guy you can bank on because he throws it over the plate, he’s got some stuff, and we’ll see how he comes to camp and responds to the situation he’s in.”
‘The same guy every single time’
Jose Quintana might be the least heralded of the Mets’ new starting pitchers — with Justin Verlander and Kodai Senga as the headliners — but the veteran left-hander has a fan in Hefner, who saw him plenty as an advance scout and assistant pitching coach with the Twins. Quintana pitched in the same division with the White Sox.
“The thing that I admired about him, even going back to my Twins days, is he’s the same guy every single time, regardless of what is going on around him — if he’s going well or having a tough game,” Hefner said. “He kind of stabilizes our rotation and gives us a left-handed piece. I was very excited when we signed him, just because I’ve always liked him and now I get a chance to work with him.”
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