The Indians made it clear in their presser following the acquisition of Kevin Plawecki: He’s here to compete for the starting job, but nothing is assured.
When the Tribe dealt Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals earlier in the offseason, they took one of their thinnest positions and made them thinner. Gomes seemed to finally be putting his offense back together in 2018 with his first 100-plus wRC+ since 2014. But after slashing .266/.313/.449 with 16 home runs, he was dealt away and the Indians were left with Roberto Perez and Eric Haase to split some kind of time behind the dish.
To alleviate some of the strain of playing Roberto Perez — who has proved time and time again he is no offense threat — and rookie Eric Haase, Chris Antonetti and company acquired Kevin Plawecki from the New York Mets for second base prospect Sam Haggerty and reliever Walker Lockett.
Antonetti praised Plawecki’s skills behind the plate before all else.
“We’re excited to add Kevin to our Major League catching mix,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “The guy has earned a reputation as a really good teammate, a good receiver, and leads a pitching staff really well.”
From the outside looking in, the way the Indians have handled their catchers over the last few seasons is pretty bizarre. They’ve shunned a potential offensive star in Francisco Mejia, yet they dealt away Yan Gomes to save some cash in the offseason. Was this the plan all along? To save a few bucks, bring in Kevin Plawlecki and hope for the best? I hope not.
Plawlecki is a 27-year-old right-handed bat who was drafted by the Mets with the 35th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was a great hitter in the lower levels of the minors, mostly thanks to his low strikeout numbers and high contact rates. As it usually does, though, that offensive shimmer waned as he climbed through the minors. As a major leaguer, he has a career .218/.308/.330 slash with 14 home runs and a wRC+ of 78. He also has a 9.5 percent walk rate and 21.8 percent strikeout rate. To reiterate the point of the title: He’s Roberto Perez Mark II.
His walk rate is a bit lower than Roberto’s, but he can actually make his bat touch the ball occasionally. He’s used that magic ability to parlay a career-high 107 wRC+ in 2017 and he followed it up with a 93 wRC+ last season. Like Perez, he’s shown a very, very rare ability to hit a homer once in a while, including a career-high seven dingers in 2018.
Defensive catcher metrics are still a mystery to those of us outside baseball organizations, but presumably the Indians have seen something with Plawecki to warrant giving him a shot in spring training. He’s far from an elite fielder or framer, and his 2018 defensive numbers were a disappointment compared to small breakout in 2017. But the potential is there, no matter how small it may be.
The purpose of the deal seems pretty clear, if completely unexciting. Plawecki is capable of league-average offensive seasons, ala Yan Gomes’ 2018 minus the power potential. And he’ll cost the Indians $6.5 million less. At the very least, he could light a fire under Perez and/or Haase to seize the starting catching job and help us forget that than Yan Gomes now resides in the nation’s capital.
If you like to judge your team’s deals based off the reaction of the other team’s fans, the consensus among Amazin’ Avenue readers seems to be that the return for Plawecki is pretty light, but they won’t miss him if Travis d’Arnaud — but that’s a huge if.