First and foremost, it’s obvious there is no replacing Jeff McNeil. The Mets can’t do that. As noted earlier, the Mets need Juan Lagares and Joe Panik to play like everyday players while hoping the healthy players on this roster raise their games. The Mets are also going to need production from the player who occupies McNeil’s spot on the roster (should he land on the IL).
According to various reports, the first person under consideration is Ruben Tejada. Part of the reason the Mets are considering Tejada is the great year he is having in Syracuse. Through 71 games, he is hitting .330/.408/.476 with 19 doubles, a triple, six homers, and 38 RBI.
It should be noted like the Major Leagues, there has been a juiced ball issue in Triple-A, and Tejada’s numbers could be attributed to that. For example, Tejada hit .230/.291/.298 in 101 games for Triple-A Norfolk last year. Tejada last played in the Major Leagues in 2017 when he hit .230/.293/.283 in 41 games for the Orioles.
The bigger issue with Tejada is the fact he has never played the outfield in his professional career. One of the things which made McNeil so important was his versatility and ability to play almost all seven defensive positions. With respect to Tejada, he has mostly played third base this year along with some time at second and short. Overall, while Tejada may hit, he is not going to be able to provide the versatility the Mets need causing the team to have to lean on Aaron Altherr all the more.
Another former Met on the Syracuse roster who should merit consideration is Dilson Herrera. Unlike Tejada, Herrera has some outfield experience playing 10 games in the outfield for Syracuse and 11 games for the Reds last season. It should be noted Herrera did not rate well with a -2 DRS in 56.2 innings for the Reds last year, but he should have the opportunity to work with Luis Rojas, who has done a fine job helping Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis not be nightmares in left field this year.
Offensively, Herrera has had a very good year in Syracuse hitting .255/.332/.528 with 26 doubles, a triple, 22 homers, and 53 RBI. Now, the juiced ball effect should be taken into account for Herrera like it was with Tejada. That said, Herrera hit .297/.367/.465 in 71 Triple-A games last year. Herrera did not impress during his call-up to the Reds last year hitting .184/.268/.414 in 53 games. However, it should be noted he hit five homers for the Reds last year showing Herrera could help provide some pop off a bench currently bereft of it.
Looking at former Reds currently in the Mets system, the team should also consider Arismendy Alcantara. Looking at his Major League numbers, Alcantara has hit less than Tejada or Herrera. In fact, over the course of his limited playing time from 2014 – 2017, he hit .189/.235/.248. Like Tejada and Herrera, he his having a good year with Syracuse hitting .302/.363/.523 with 12 doubles, five triples, 10 homers, 41 RBI in 73 games.
Defensively, he is much more versatile than either Tejada or Herrera. In fact, over his career, the two positions he has predominantly played have been center field and second base. In many ways, that makes the switch hitter a very good replacement for McNeil as he is going to provide the same level of versatility the Mets need.
If the Mets wanted to look outside the organization, Josh Harrison was released by the Detroit Tigers on August 9. In 31 games for the Tigers, he hit just .176/.219/.265. Part of his struggles could be attributable to his having an injury plagued year with him having a shoulder injury in March and a left hamstring tendon strain which landed him on the IL on May 28. Harrison has not played in the Majors since then.
Harrison has not played well in his seven game rehab stint before his release. Of course, the long layoff could have been a factor. However, it should also be noted Harrison hit .250/.293/.363 in 97 games for the Pirates last year.
One other note with Harrison is he’s not as versatile as you would believe. Since 2016, he has predominantly played second base, and he last played more than one game in the outfield in 2017. He last played more than 10 games there in 2015. Put another way, he is really now just a 31 year old infielder who is on the decline.
Looking at all the options, the Mets need to consider what they want for the bench piece. Are they looking for a platoon for Panik at second? Do they want the best possible hitter to pinch hit? Are they looking to catch lightning in a bottle? Do the Mets value versatility, comfort with a particular player, or possibly a name which could inspire faith among the team and fanbase?
The Mets focus is going to dictate which direction they should go. Ultimately, given the ability to play multiple positions and the team’s need for a bat off the bench, arguably, the Mets should look towards Dilson Herrera. However, the decision is not that clear cut, and the Mets can very justifiably decide to go with any of the other aforementioned players.
UPDATE: According to reports, the Mets are going with Tejada.
As bad as it looked, it sounded worse. Jeff McNeil hit the first base bag awkwardly, and he was clearly in pain hobbling and hopping around in foul territory. After the game, he and Mickey Callaway tried to put a good face on it, but they came across despondent.
Even if this isn’t the worst case scenario, it looks like McNeil will have to miss sometime. We can pray for a game or two, but it’s probably more than that.
If you want to be glass half full, Lagares seems to be locked in recently. We saw a vintage Lagares defensive play when he robbed Yan Gomes of an extra base hit on Saturday. Last night, he was 4-for-4 against the Braves. That matched his hit total for all of July, and it was his fifth four hit game in his seven year career.
Looking back, the last time Lagares had struggled offensively and defensively like this was in 2015. Those struggles led to the Mets first trying to obtain Carlos Gomez, and then later “settling” on Yoenis Cespedes.
In 2015, after the Mets obtained Cespedes and the Mets started playing more meaningful games, Lagares stepped up god game. From August 1 until the end of the season, he hit .287/.326/.471. In that postseason, Lagares hit .348/.375/.435.
Maybe, Lagares has that ability to raise his game in these pressure situations. That’s at least the hope now.
The other hope is Panik can raise his game right now. So far, he hasn’t hit much with the Mets going 2-for-10 with a walk. However, what he has contributed has counted for something.
His single Friday led to Michael Conforto‘s walk off hit. His teaching on an error on Saturday led to J.D. Davis‘ go-ahead sacrifice fly. His RBI single Sunday was part of a three run inning to tie the game at 3-3.
That’s what the Mets need from Lagares and Panik. There’s no way they can match what McNeil gave the Mets. There’s maybe five players in all of baseball who could do that. Maybe. Instead, they need to make their hits count while also reaching back and rediscovering their Gold Glove form.
More than anything, if they give the Mets very good to elite defense, the Mets still have a chance. Both players have the skills to do it, so to that end, there’s a legitimate chance.
If they do that, they help the pitching, which in turn, lowers the bar on the amount of runs the Mets need to score to win.
The onus for scoring those runs will have to be shared collectively by the lineup. At the moment, you can’t ask more from Davis than what he’s been giving. The same goes for Wilson Ramos.
The burden shifts to Amed Rosario to pick it back up after going 4-for-23 over his last five games. Todd Frazier needs to return or get close to his June form. Pete Alonso has to get back to his first half form instead of being the guy hitting .188 in that second half hitting the occasional homer. Finally, no matter how good Conforto has been, as a leader and as a guy who’s been here before, he needs to raise his game to another level.
If these things happen, and you get a spark from one of Ruben Tejada, Dilson Herrera, and/or Arismendy Alcantara from Triple-A or a Luis Guillorme and Aaron Altherr from the Major League roster, McNeil missing any time doesn’t have to be a death knell for the season.
Overall, everyone on this roster raising their game is very possible. However, nothing is going to be possible unless Lagares and Panik raise their games. I’d they don’t do that, chances are McNeil missing time will be the reason the Mets moss the postseason.