In Mets history, there have been a number of people who have worn the number 2, and to some extent it is an almost cursed number in team history. Perhaps that is a function of Marvelous Marv Throneberry being one of the first people to ever wear the uniform.
Over time, we would see many wear the number and fall far short of expectations. It was the number of Jim Fregosi. It was also the number of Dilson Herrera and Gavin Cecchini. It was also the number of Justin Turner who had better days after leaving the Mets.
Seeing all the number is and what is represents, perhaps Mackey Sasser is the best Mets player to ever to wear the number.
Knowing Gary Carter‘s days being a top catcher were going to be limited, the Mets were proactive, and they addressed the future of the position by obtaining Sasser from the Pittsburgh Pirates on the eve of the 1988 season. That would make Sasser the back-up catcher for the Mets last division title of the century.
That 1988 season was the worst of Carter’s career, and the Mets needed their back-up catcher to contribute more than in year’s past. That season he was an above-average offensive catcher. In fact, he was better than that with his having the sixth best wRC+ among National League catchers with at least 90 PA.
That was the case for his two year tenure as Carter’s back-up. It was Sasser’s play which allowed the Mets to feel comfortable making the very difficult decision in releasing Carter at the end of the year to hand the reigns to Sasser. In 1990, Sasser would reward the Mets faith in him.
In 1990, Sasser would play a career high 100 games that season, and he would catch a career high 87 games. During that season, he would do what had been previously impossible by becoming the first Mets catcher to throw out Vince Coleman attempting to steal a base.
Up until that time, Coleman was a perfect 57/57 in stolen base attempts against his future team. Aside from the throwing highlight, Sasser proved his offense could withstand a heavier defensive workload with his being now the fifth best offensive catcher in baseball. Unfortunately, this season would be it for Sasser behind the plate.
The beginning of the end came on July 8, 1990. In that game against the Atlanta Braves, Sasser was already 2-for-3 at the plate raising his season stats to .336/.381/.455. In the game, Jim Presley ran over Sasser at the plate. Sasser would get the out (he was quite adept at the tag), but he would depart the game with a badly sprained ankle.
From there, Mackey Sasser Disease, the cousin of Steve Blass Disease was born. Sasser would soon begin having issues throwing the ball back to the catcher. This effectively ended his career even with the Mets keeping him around a few more years as a backup and utility player.
That would not be the end of Sasser’s impact upon baseball or the Mets. As it turns out, Sasser wanted answers to why he had the yips. He would seek them out, and as he said to Anthony McCarron then of the New York Daily News, he got that help from Dr. David Grand.
With that help, he was able to successfully be able to throw the ball again, and he would not have issues doing things like throwing batting practice. That would partially help him have a coaching career. In that coaching career, he would again help the New York Mets.
During his coaching career, Sasser would find himself coaching a young infielder named T.J. Rivera at Troy University. When Rivera was undrafted, Sasser called to the Mets and recommended the team sign him. This would eventually lead to Rivera becoming the team’s everyday second baseman in September 2016 and helping that Mets team claim the top Wild Card spot.
More than that, Sasser has made himself available to help those players who have had potentially career altering yips the way he once did. That included calling up Mike Pelfrey when the young right-hander was experiencing issues with balks.
Overall, Sasser not only helped the Mets as a player, but he did what he could do to help the organization after his playing career was over. As we saw, he did hit part to help save Pelfrey’s career, and he helped launch Rivera’s. Even with Turner having his moments and Juan Uribe becoming an instant Mets folk hero, it is difficult to argue any Mets player who wore the number 2 having a bigger impact on the franchise than he.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series highlighting the best players in Mets history by highlighting the best Mets player to wear a particular uniform number. In this case, this is not saying Sasser was the second best player in Mets history, but rather the best Mets player to wear the number 2.
Tim Tebow is a problem because the Mets are making him one. So far, he has played in 60 of Syracuse’s first 79 games. Essentially, this means he is playing fairly regularly despite his hitting just .150/.232/.209. It should come as little surprise he’s not getting better with June being his worst month of the season.
If the Mets problems handling the player assignments and playing time at the Double-A and Triple-A level were limited only to Tebow, you can overlook things a bit. After all, whether you like to admit it or not, the Mets operate a business, and they are going to attempt to use Tebow to generate revenue for their newly acquired Syracuse franchise. Unfortunately, the problems run deeper than Tebow.
Entering the season, the Mets had a glut of infielders with Robinson Cano, J.D. Davis, Todd Frazier, Jed Lowrie, Jeff McNeil, and Amed Rosario. The Mets added to this glut by first signing and then calling up Adeiny Hechavarria. Considering the situation, the last thing the Mets needed were veterans taking up space on the Syracuse infield.
Despite that, the Mets signed Danny Espinosa, who is a career .221/.297/.344 hitter and hit .197/.286/.344 between 2016-2017 and did not play in the majors last year. To make matters worse, he leads the team in games played. Second on the team is Travis Taijeron, who has established himself as not being a Major League caliber player. Fourth in games played is Gregor Blanco, who hit .217/.262/.317 last year.
Those three players right there are not just taking up space on the roster, but it is also taking away at-bats from players who truly needed it.
It’s easy to forget Dilson Herrera is just 25 years old, but he is making him a young player with potential to develop. To be fair, he is third on the team in games played. However, it was not until recently the team has sought to develop him more into a utility player. Prior to June, he had only played two full games in left field and none at any other position but second and third.
To be useful to the organization, Herrera needed to be playing first, second, third, and all three outfield positions. However, he can’t partially because those spots are taken by Espinosa, Taijeron, and Blanco, three players who were never going to be a factor for the Mets in 2019. When you add Tebow, that’s four.
This has a necessary trickle down effect. Players like David Thompson and Gavin Cecchini, who just came off the IL, have been assigned to Binghamton. At this stage in their professional development, they need to be in Triple-A working on things. For both, that means become more versatile and becoming better hitters. However, they can’t be in Syracuse getting regular playing time because the Mets are wasting playing time on two has beens and two never will bes.
Those players being in Binghamton has a trickle down effect interfering with playing time for players like Luis Carpio. Carpio was someone once regarded as a top prospect, but he would suffer shoulder injuries. On that front, he has gotten healthy and shown some promise. Of course, that promise only goes as far as the team’s willingness and ability to get him playing time.
There are other issues like Braxton Lee, a 25 year old who plays good defense and has good speed, being forced to Double-A instead of getting real development time in Syracuse. There’s also the fact Luis Guillorme is in Triple-A splitting middle infield playing time instead of just playing over Hechavarria at the Major League level.
Really, the list goes on and on, and that is before you consider Rene Rivera catching everyday leaves the Mets having Patrick Mazeika and Ali Sanchez sharing catching duties in Binghamton instead of them being split up to allow them both to get regular playing time and thrive.
While we rightfully focus on what has transpired with the Mets, the organization’s problems run deeper than just the team in Queens. The same shortsightedness and reliance on under-performing players over promising young players is also very present in Triple-A.
If things continue this way, this will prove to be not just a lost season in Queens but Syracuse as well.
During Sandy Alderson’s tenure as the Mets General Manager, he did quite well in the first round. Those first round picks included Brandon Nimmo, Michael Fulmer, Gavin Cecchini, Kevin Plawecki, Dominic Smith, Michael Conforto, Justin Dunn, Anthony Kay, David Peterson, and Jarred Kelenic.
All of the players drafted prior to 2015 have played at the Major League level. They are only one of eight franchises who can say all of their first round picks in that time span reached the Major League level. Of those six players drafted prior to 2015, five of them have established themselves as bona fide Major League players with the jury still being out on Cecchini, who is still just 25 years old.
Nimmo was the second best hitter in the National League last year. Conforto and Plawecki were a part of a pennant winner with Conforto hitting two homers in a World Series game. Conforto and Fulmer have already been named All Stars. So far, this group has a Rookie of the Year and two All-Star appearances.
Fulmer, Dunn, and Kelenic were moved for pieces which were traded to help improve the Major League club. While people have disagreements with the respective trades, the deals brought back Yoenis Cespedes, Robinson Cano, and Edwin Diaz, each of whom are established All-Star caliber players.
Looking at the 10 first round draft picks, all but one of them have made some form of a top 100 prospect list since being drafted by the team. It may come as some surprise that includes Cecchini, who was named a KATOH Top 100 pick by Fangraphs, and Peterson, who was named a top 100 prospect by ESPN‘s Keith Law. In fact, the one who hasn’t is Kay, who right now appears on the cusp of getting named to a list on a midseason update or sometime next year.
Overall, the Mets have drafted talented players they have used to both build a strong core to the current Mets roster and to acquire players in the hopes of winning a World Series. With Kay and Peterson in Double-A, they can soon be part of the current core’s push to win the Mets first World Series since 1986.
That’s the legacy in front of Van Wagenen and Baty. For Van Wagenen, he has to show he has the ability to add talent to the organization the way Alderson did during his tenure as the General Manager. For Baty, he has to prove he can be every bit as talented as the players who came before him.
With Travis d’Arnaud struggling in his limited chances since returning from Tommy John surgery, he was designated for assignment. Instead of seeking to outright him to Syracuse, the Mets opted to release d’Arnaud. Now, d’Arnaud is reunited with Bob Geren in Los Angeles. It’s easy to forget now, but with Geren being the Mets catching coach, he got the very best out of d’Arnaud.
Back in 2012, the Mets would trade reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package which included d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. At that point, d’Arnaud was the best known prospect, and he was certainly a coveted one having previously been traded the Phillies to the Blue Jays so the team could obtain Roy Halladay.
The book on d’Arnaud was he was going to be a good hitting catcher. Being a good hitter or even a catcher was something which was next to impossible to ascertain when d’Arnaud was first called up to the majors in 2013. He didn’t hit at all, and he struggled mightily behind the plate. After that year, d’Arnaud would put his work in and become a much better player.
While the bat never quite materialized the way we anticipated, he did became very good behind the plate. We saw d’Arnaud become one of the best pitch framers in the game. It was one of the reasons why he was in the top 10 in Rookie of the Year voting in 2014, and it was one of the reasons why the Mets would take off in 2015.
Like he would most of his career, d’Arnaud would have injury issues in 2015, but he would be an impactful player when he was on the field. His elite pitch framing helped a staff featuring Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Syndergaard not only win the division, but also go all the way to the World Series. It gets overlooked, but d’Arnaud didn’t contribute with his strong play behind the plate, he also contributed as a hitter.
In the 2015 postseaon, d’Arnaud would hit three homers. That included one in Game 1 of the NLCS which would actually hit the Home Run Apple, which led the Mets to put a temporary band-aid on it prior to Game 2.
Of course, the homers overlook his key moments in the NLDS. In a pivotal Game 3, it was d’Arnaud who hit the RBI single which tied the game in the second, and it was d’Arnaud who hit the three run homer in the third which helped the Mets begin to pull away. We also forget with the heroics of deGrom, Jeurys Familia, and Daniel Murphy in Game 5, it was d’Arnaud who had the sacrifice fly which had tied the game setting the stage for the Mets to eventually take the lead and head to the NLCS.
After the 2015 season, d’Arnaud would deal with injuries including the torn UCL which practically cost him the entire 2018 season. Still, when he played, he was a terrific pitch framer, who was an asset to his pitching staff. He would still have the occasional highlight like his 16th inning homer against the Marlins.
One thing which really stuck out with d’Arnaud was how he was a team first player. In his tenure with the Mets, he wore three different numbers partially because he changed from number 7 to accomodate Jose Reyes when he returned to the organization. There was also the August 16, 2017 game which will live in infamy.
With both Wilmer Flores and Reyes unable to play due to injuries, and with Gavin Cecchini and Matt Reynolds unable to arrive from Las Vegas in time for the game, it meant someone was going to have to play out of position. That player would be d’Arnaud, who donned David Wright‘s mitt while switching back and forth between second and third with Asdrubal Cabrera. The lineup card was a mess with it reading d’Arnaud played “3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B.”
In the game, d’Arnaud would hit a game tying sacrifice fly in the sixth. Despite all of Terry Collins‘ machinations, the ball would finally find d’Arnaud when Todd Frazier popped it up to him in the ninth. With d’Arnaud securing it, he now stands as the Mets all-time leader in fielding percentage among Mets second baseman.
When it comes to d’Arnaud, aside from that magical 2015 season, he was never quite the player everyone hoped he would be. He battled injuries during his Mets tenure, and he was never the hitter everyone expected even if he was above average at the position. Mostly, he was very good behind the plate having been one of the best pitch framers in the game.
His Mets tenure ended with a whimper. While fans villified him for what he wasn’t instead of celebrating him for what he was, d’Arnaud opted for the high road thanking the fans and the organization for everything and expressing his gratitude to all.
While things ended poorly here, he is now playing for his hometown team. It is a team who has his former catching coach, who get everything out of d’Arnaud’s talent. He’s at the place where former Met Justin Turner‘s career took off. He’s playing for a very good team, a smart organization, and he will be put in a good position to succeed.
In his tenure, d’Arnaud was a good Met, and the 2015 run doesn’t happen without him. Despite everything, he never complained, and he was willing to do everything asked of him. Every Mets fan should wish him the best of luck. I know I will.
The long winter is over and Opening Day is just three days away. During the 2019 season, we are sure to see some ups and downs, and there will be players who will surprise us over the course of the season. In this latest edition of the Mets Blogger Roundtable, we discussed which players we believe will surprise us and all of baseball during the 2019 season:
Metstradamus (Metstradamus Blog)
I don’t think Met fans would be surprised by anybody having a good year, because we’re looking hard at everybody. In terms of the baseball world, I think the surprise would be Amed Rosario. He had a down season but his last two months and his spring would be great. I think around baseball, nobody is really expecting much from him but he could surprise in the way that he might live up to his potential in his second full season.
Though I think the surprise will be Noah Syndergaard. Not that it would shock anyone if he had a good or even great season, but I think he could have “that” season. Like … Jacob deGrom type season. That would even surprise Mets fans, but I think it has a chance of happening.
James Schapiro (Shea Bridge Report)
I totally agree on Syndergaard. When you actually watch his highlight videos, so much of the time he’s just completely untouchable. If he finally has “that” season, where he pitches up to his potential almost every start, he’s easily a Cy Young candidate.
Another candidate — Juan Lagares? He’s never been an offensive star, but I’ve always thought he looked better than replacement-level as a hitter. I don’t think he’ll bat .300 or hit 30 (or even 20) home runs, but if he finally plays close to regularly and replicates or slightly improves on his 2014 performance — say, .280/.320/.380 — he’ll be an enormous asset. Remember: his defense has stayed fantastic (positive dWAR every year), and last season, in 30 games, he looked like a legitimate professional hitter.
Pete McCarthy (OABT)
I’d agree with Rosario as the best “surprise” candidate. Has tremendous ability but hasn’t put it all together besides the occasional flashes. Think he can take another step forward and grow into more than a decent defender who bats at the bottom of the order.
Tim Ryder (MMO)
I’m sticking with Jason Vargas as my pleasant surprise this season. His strong second half last year and, for the most part, lights out spring are both very encouraging signs. As long as he sticks to his game (slow and low, that is the tempo), pitching behind four fireballers in deGrom, Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz, I really feel like he’s gonna be successful. A high threes-to-low four ERA out of your fifth starter is a great thing. Hopefully, he can find a rhythm and contribute consistently.
Greg Prince (Faith and Fear in Flushing)
From two sides: Robinson Cano, for having more left than we suspect.
Ryan O’Rourke, as that useful bullpen arm we didn’t necessarily see coming.
My initial instinct was to peg players like Dominic Smith and Gavin Cecchini, but ultimately, I am not sure they are going to receive sufficient enough playing time to really get a chance to surprise anyone or even establish themselves.
One player who should receive an opportunity is Luis Guillorme. Last year, he did establish himself as an adept pinch hitter, and with him being in better shape, he should play excellent defense at second, third, and short. With the injuries to Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie (especially Lowrie), he’s going to get that opportunity too. He’s the type of guy who could breakthrough and become a fan favorite this season.
While we may see Guillorme as a surprise, what is not a surprise is the excellent content from these bloggers. Please take the time to visit their sites and enjoy their excellent work.
Yesterday was a very good day for Luis Guillorme. After an offseason where he put in a lot of work, he had a very good Spring Training. If yesterday is any indication, he’s overcome long odds and took advantage of Jed Lowrie‘s and Todd Frazier‘s injuries to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster.
It was a very good day for him indeed. By the same token, it was not a good day for Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen.
First and foremost, the Mets assigned Devin Mesoraco to minor league camp. In response, he told the Mets if he was not released he was going to retire. He also said he expected to make the Opening Day roster.
Devin Mesoraco has told the Mets he won’t go to Triple-A. His expectation was he would be on the club. He is now pushing for the Mets to release him. If that doesn’t happen he will be placed on the restricted list.
— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) March 23, 2019
Expectation is a funny word. It could be Mesoraco thought he was better than Travis d’Arnaud and Tomas Nido, and as such, he expected to make the team. It could also be his expectations were if d’Arnaud were to start the year on the IL, he would make the team. Neither are the case here.
It’s also possible overtures were made by Van Wagenen that Mesoraco was going to make the team, and those overtures might have induced Mesoraco to sign with the Mets over seeking another opportunity or waiting it out a little longer to see if a catcher (like Salvador Perez) suffered an injury.
You do wonder if it was the latter as Adeiny Hechavarria did not make the roster. With respect to Hechavarria, he was taken to dinner by Van Wagenen and Mickey Callaway, who sold him on their vision for him with this club. Aside from the fact it’s odd to wine-and-dine a 29 year old replacement level player, it would seem strange Hechavarria was enticed to sign with the Mets over another team because he thinks Syracuse is a great city.
Between the Mesoraco and Hechavarria situations, the more likely scenario is they were asked to sign minor league deals with the expectation the Mets would make a 40 man move at the end of Spring Training to add them to the Opening Day roster.
It’s the most likely but not the only possible explanation. However, the problem with the others is it would require a more plausible explanation why Mesoraco seems so upset and why Hechavarria would want to play in Syracuse.
And no, we should not cite Spring Training stats. They’re meaningless, especially for veteran players. The Mets know the level of production these players would provide over the course of a 162 game season. A poor Spring doesn’t change that.
As bad as that is the Mets brought back a lot of old friends from years past. The team signed Ruben Tejada and Travis Taijeron, each of whom was a dubious signing. Really, neither serve as MLB depth, and in reality, their presence only serves to take at-bats away from younger players like Gavin Cecchini, i.e. players who could still have a chance to improve and make an impact on the Major League level.
As bad (or even overblown) as all this is, there’s Jacob deGrom.
Jacob deGrom says he's "probably not as" optimistic as he once was that he and the Mets will complete a contract extension before Opening Day.
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) March 23, 2019
Like all of us, he sees the extensions the other players are getting, specifically Chris Sale and Justin Verlander. Now, deGrom isn’t as optimistic his former agent can get him the deal he told him he was worth.
This could mean at a time when all of baseball is pushing to extend their stars, the Mets are shut out, or in the best case scenario, only lock up deGrom.
All told, what was a great day for Guillorme was a very bad day for Van Wagenen and the Mets.
As the Mets approach Opening Day, the team is going to have to make some manuevers if they are going to add their minor league free agents to the 40 man roster. Earlier in the offseason, T.J. Rivera was released, which creates one spot. By the look of Spring Training, the team is going to need more than that one spot.
With his needing Tommy John surgery, another roster spot was opened up by Drew Smith likely headed for the 60 day disabled list. With him likely headed there, the 40 man roster will likely sit at 38. With Yoenis Cespedes hitting the 60 day IL, that drops the number to 37.
At the moment, the team is considering adding Luis Avilan as the LOOGY in the bullpen. The team is also likely to add Adeiny Hechavarria as a backup shortstop. The team is also considering Ryan O’Rourke, Hector Santiago, Pete Alonso, Devin Mesoraco, and Rajai Davis. In total, the Mets are likely to add as many as three players and possibly more.
In the event there is more, the team could opt to put Franklyn Kilome on the 60 day disabled list to preserve his last option, but such a move starts his service clock while having him cost significantly more. This would make adding him to the 60 day disabled list unlikely meaning there are two or more Mets whose 40 man roster spots could now become tenuous:
Right off the bat, Kyle Dowdy is an obvious choice. Should he lose the race for the last man in the bullpen to O’Rourke, Santiago, or one of the Mets young right-handed relief pitchers, it’s quite possible the team returns him to the Cleveland Indians. With him pitching to a 7.36 ERA this Spring and 5.15 ERA between Double- and Triple-A last year, his heading back to Cleveland seems like the obvious choice.
With respect to the Mets young right-handed relievers, Tim Peterson seems to have the most tenuous spot. We have seen Peterson really succeed in spots as evidenced by his 0.87 ERA in the Arizona Fall League or his allowing just two earned runs over his first 11.1 relief innings. However, over time, batters catch up to him and his 91 MPH fastball.
On the relief front, the Mets may also be in a position to designate Paul Sewald and Jacob Rhame for assignment. We have seen each of them pitch well in the majors in spurts, but their overall body of work has been quite lacking. However, given their limited history of success, it would seem while their spots are tenuous, they have a leg up on the aforementioned pitchers.
On the position player front, Luis Guillorme‘s spot seems the most tenuous. After he struggled in 35 games at the Major League level, it appeared the organization really soured on him. If you want evidence to that effect, look no further than how he was not among the September call-ups last year. The Mets offseason moves would seem to indicate his spot is dubious as well.
Hechavarria serves the same role Guillorme could have served, but the Mets thought it better to potentially give Hechavarria $3 million than give Guillorme a chance. With the team adding Dilson Herrera to add to an already crowded Syracuse infield and top prospect Andres Gimenez not too far from Triple-A, Guillorme’s spot seems all the more dubious.
That said, the team did designate Gavin Cecchini for assignment earlier in the year, and Guillorme has had a very good Spring. This means Guillorme’s spot is safe for now. As for the aforementioned pitchers, it may depend on how many players they seek to add the to Opening Day roster and if they are able to swing trades for players like Travis d’Arnaud to open up enough spots.
With Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier suffering injuries during Spring Training, the Mets depth is being tested early. Most will point to how this clears the path for Pete Alonso. You could see how this in an opportunity for J.D. Davis. While the Mets may not initially want to move Jeff McNeil to third, if they would it could present an opportunity for Dominic Smith to make the roster.
Okay, well almost anybody. Really, to suggest Tim Tebow has an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster borders on the absurd. Really, just look at the Mets complete left field depth chart:
- Michael Conforto
- Jeff McNeil
- Brandon Nimmo
- Juan Lagares
- Keon Broxton
- Rajai Davis
- Gregor Blanco
- J.D. Davis
- Rymer Liriano
- Dominic Smith
- T.J. Rivera
- Dilson Herrera
- Danny Espinosa
- Kevin Kaczmarski
- Braxton Lee
Also consider the Mets have the option to move players like Cecchini to the outfield. As the season progresses, players like Desmond Lindsay may move ahead of Tebow. However, this is about right now, and right now there is nothing to suggest Tebow is anywhere close enough to cracking the Mets Opening Day roster. Really, the mere suggestion of it is beyond absurd.
With the way the free agent market has played out, Manny Machado signed an arguably under-value contract after position players reported to Spring Training. Many cite top end free agents like Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Craig Kimbrel still being on the market as a sure sign there is a problem with free agency.
Those making that claim are right, but the problems do go deeper than that.
Take for example Jose Bautista. Last year, the Mets literally signed Bautista while he was sitting on his couch. He’d fly to New York, and he would prove himself to still be a capable Major League player.
In his time with the Mets, Bautista was an above league average hitter (104 OPS+). In 83 games, he hit .204/.351/.367 with 13 doubles, nine homers, and 37 RBI. He’d play all over the diamond as well, and he would actually play well defensively. Bautista was actually a 1 DRS in 109.2 innings in left. He was serviceable elsewhere with a -2 DRS in right and a -1 DRS at third base. He would show himself to be quite a versatile defender also playing 14.2 innings at first and even an inning at second base.
What is interesting is when Bautista was traded to the Phillies, who were still fighting for a postseason spot, Bautista raised his game. In 27 games for the Phillies, Bautista would hit .244/.404/.467 with four doubles, two homers, and six RBI.
Now, there is no question Bautista’s skills have diminished. He is far from the All-Star and MVP candidate he was in 2015. Still, not all of his skills have eroded. He still has a good eye at the plate, and he has maintained an excellent walk rate (16.8 percent). He had an above-average .175 ISO and 13.1 percent HR/FB. Ultimately, this is a player who still has power and a flair for the dramatic:
At this stage in his career, the 38 year old Bautista is no more than a bench or utility player. He is a power source off your bench. As he showed last year, he still has something in the tank. Really, in a normal free agent market you would see a team signing him to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.
Remember, Bautista showed last year he was not above that. He signed such a deal with the Braves, and he spent time in the minors to prove himself as a third baseman. It didn’t work there, but it did with the Mets and the Phillies in a different role. Bautista could work well for another team in 2019 if just given the chance.
From a Mets perspective, you could see why they haven’t brought him back. They have Gregor Blanco and Rajai Davis fighting for outfield spots. Younger players like J.D. Davis and to a certain extent Dominic Smith are fighting for a Major League bench spot. There’s also Dilson Herrera, Gavin Cecchini, Will Toffey, Luis Guillorme, and David Thompson who could be fighting for a role not just for the Major League team but also the Syracuse Triple-A team.
To that extent, you understand the Mets not bringing back Bautista. But that’s just the Mets. What are the other 29 Major League team’s excuse?
Assuming the Mets carry five bench spots, which is the norm for a National League team, the race for the last spot on the bench became much more crowded and complicated with the team’s signing of Adeiny Hechavarria. That question becomes further complicated when you question just what exactly the Mets real intentions are with Peter Alonso.
Assuming Alonso begins the season in Triple-A, the Mets already have bench spots allocated to Travis d’Arnaud and Keon Broxton. One of Juan Lagares or Jeff McNeil is going to play everyday meaning the other is going to be on the bench. That is three bench spots spoken for with two remaining. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.
Considering the Mets parted with a package headlined by Luis Santana in what has been an oft criticized trade, you could see the pressure to carry J.D. Davis. Aside from the pressure, whether it be real or imagined, Davis does have the ability to play both corner infield spots adequately, and despite his deficiencies out there, the does have outfield experience.
The real positive for Davis is the power he could provide off the bench, but in order for that to be realized, he is going to have to increase the launch angle in his swing and his corresponding high ground ball rates. There is also a real question whether Chili Davis is the hitting coach to get him to realize his full power potential.
If the Mets are looking for a versatile infielder who can play the outfield, there is forgotten man T.J. Rivera. Rivera missed last season due to Tommy John surgery, but reports this Spring have been overly positive. While we know Rivera is not a particularly good defender, the Mets also know Rivera can be trusted to start at any position over a long stretch. Between the 2017 season and the World Baseball Classic, we have also seen him able to raise his game in big games.
The issue both players have is neither plays shortstop. For that matter, neither does Jed Lowrie, which arguably led to the Mets signing Hechavarria to a minor league deal. The one thing we do know with Hechavarria is he can play shortstop and play it well. Over the last four seasons combined, he has amassed a 26 DRS. The problem with him is he can’t hit as evidenced by his career 72 wRC+.
Hitting was also an issue for Luis Guillorme. In his brief time with the Mets, he was only able to muster a 53 wRC+ in 35 games. That is partially because Guillorme received uneven playing time. It is also because he has never been considered to be a great hitter. Still, there are two factors in Guillorme’s favor. First, like Hechavarria, he is a good defender. Second, Guillorme did show himself to be an adept pinch hitter last year hitting .273/.467/.364 in 15 pinch hitting appearances.
Now, if the Mets are looking for a more offensive oriented middle infielder who could play shortstop, the team does have Gavin Cecchini. Heading into last season, Cecchini had worked on his swing, and it had paid dividends with him hitting .294/.342/.468 in 30 games for Las Vegas before fouling a ball off his leg effectively ending his season. If Cecchini shows he is able to hit the same way, he could make a case for a bench spot for himself.
Standing in Cecchini’s way is his not being on the 40 man roster and his shortstop defense having pushed him to second base. The same could also be true for Dilson Herrera. For his part, Herrera was never truly considered anything more than a second baseman and that was before his shoulder injury. That shoulder injury cost him some of his offensive output until he rediscovered his stroke last year hitting .297/.367/.465 for the Reds Triple-A affiliate.
One other overlooked name for the Opening Day bench is Dominic Smith. If Alonso were to start the year in Triple-A, the Mets would have to find playing time for Alonso, Gregor Blanco, Rajai Davis, Rymer Liriano, and Tim Tebow between first base, three infield spots, and DH. Even with how down the team may be on Smith, it is difficult to believe they would leave him in Syracuse to fight for playing time between those three spots.
Instead, the team could carry him on the Major League roster. Certainly, Smith reporting to camp with not just his keeping the weight off but also adding muscle, helps improve his chances. His being a good defensive first baseman capable of playing left field in a pinch should also help him.
Of course, Smith would have to compete with all of the aforementioned players as well as Danny Espinosa just to claim a bench spot. He would also have to count on the team not putting Alonso on the Opening Day roster, which judging from the improvements Alonso has made, is not a safe assumption.
Really, when breaking it down, the Mets have plenty of options to fill out their bench, and ultimately for this team to reach its full potential, they are going to have to find the right mix of players to complement their everyday players. Hopefully, everyone comes to play making this as difficult a decision as the Mets will have all year.