PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The inevitable news of Travis d'Arnaud's demotion finally landed late Sunday evening. The Mets officially optioned their top catching prospect to Minor League camp, part of a wave of six cuts that significantly clarified their Opening Day roster picture.
In addition to d'Arnaud, the Mets cut pitcher Aaron Laffey, infielders Brandon Hicks and Brian Bixler, and outfielders Andrew Brown and Jamie Hoffman.
All of those were anticipated to some degree. But none was as high profile as the cut of d'Arnaud, who impressed the Mets throughout his first spring in the organization.
"He played very well," general manager Sandy Alderson said of d'Arnaud, who headlined the trade that sent R.A. Dickey to Toronto. "He met all of our expectations, which I think for the organization and Mets fans, were fairly high. He did a very nice job, and we're hopeful he'll have a long career in New York.
Over six weeks in big league camp, d'Arnaud hit .343 with four doubles in 35 at-bats, drawing rave reviews for his work behind the plate. Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler in particular developed rapports with d'Arnaud, who figures to catch a majority of their pitches over the next half-dozen years. The Mets saw him grow visibly even from mid-February to late March.
At Triple-A Las Vegas, a power hitter's haven, d'Arnaud has a chance to post gaudy offensive numbers in the middle of the lineup. If he does, the Mets will not wait long to promote him; they only want to ensure that he does not receive enough service time to become a Super Two arbitration player, which would potentially cost the organization millions of dollars and a year of team control.
In the interim, the Mets will proceed with an Opening Day catching alignment of John Buck and Anthony Recker. Buck, a nine-year veteran who also has enjoyed a strong spring, will receive the lion's share of work as long as he is healthy. Alderson noted that the Mets have "a big investment" in Buck, whose spring responsibilities included mentoring d'Arnaud, the man the Mets hope will eventually replace him.
"I think our pitching staff and team overall will benefit from John Buck's presence," Alderson said, "and ultimately Travis is going to be a very good player for us."
Should Buck suffer an injury, Alderson added, "Travis d'Arnaud is a frontline catcher" -- the implication being that he is next in line for promotion, regardless of service time or contract quibbles. But in an ideal world for the Mets, d'Arnaud will not resurface until at least May.
Sunday's other cuts painted a telling picture of the rest of the Opening Day roster. With Bixler and Hicks no longer around, Omar Quintanilla will make the team as the backup shortstop. And with Brown and Hoffman back in the Minors, the Mets' outfield will consist of Lucas Duda, Collin Cowgill, Marlon Byrd, Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin.
Seven days out from Opening Day, the Mets now have 35 players left in big league camp.