The biggest move the Mets made this offseason was clearly the trade that netted them superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland. Obviously, the deal was a home run for the Mets, but the fact remains they had to trade two of their major league infielders (Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez) to get it done.
Earlier this week they traded for right-handed pitcher Jordan Yamamoto, another good move I believe, but they designated infielder Robel Garcia for assignment to make room for Yamamoto on the 40-man roster.
And before either of these moves, it was already mentioned numerous times by the Mets front office that they would like to add infield depth. Team president Sandy Alderson has said J.D. Davis is the starter at third, though never sounding confident in that option. At one point even saying, “Our third base situation is a bit up in the air.”
Before we get into the options for third base or infield depth overall, let’s take a look at what exactly the Mets have there right now.
1B Pete Alonso
2B Jeff McNeil
SS Francisco Lindor
3B J.D. Davis
That looks like what the Mets would potentially put out there most days for starters given their current options and no Universal DH. Now let’s look at what Roster Resource from FanGraphs has predicted for the bench.
C Tomas Nido
OF Guillermo Heredia
INF José Peraza
INF Luis Guillorme
DH/1B José Martínez
Yikes. Nido is a given as the backup catcher, and a solid one in my opinion. Guillorme will likely make starts at third base against some right-handed pitching and certainly deserves that after posting a 144 wRC+ in 2020. Martinez is a lefty masher (.915 OPS vs LHP in career), but is a bad outfielder and is really only a first base/DH type.
Now we get into the part of the bench that needs work, Heredia and Peraza.
The 30-year-old Heredia has a career 84 wRC+ in the big leagues. his value comes from his defense, he’s been 21 outs above average in the outfield (including 12 OAA in center field) during his five-year career.
Peraza, still only 26, had his best season in 2018 for the Reds when he had a 96 wRC+ and posted a career-high 2.6 fWAR in 157 games. Since then, he’s hit an ugly .236/.283/.345 between the Reds and Red Sox. Again, he’s a player that gets his value from defense. Peraza has experience at all three outfield spots and every infield spot outside of first base — he’s even pitched in three games. He’s been a positive defender at shortstop (3 OAA) and second base (4 OAA).
Heredia is on the Mets 40-man roster and does have one minor league option left. Peraza was signed to a minor league deal this offseason, and like Heredia, can be optioned to the minors.
The Mets also signed infielders Wilfredo Tovar and Brandon Drury this offseason, but both of them are nothing more than Triple-A filler at this point.
Upgrading third base to get a legitimate starter there would be the best course of action. That allows Davis to be a good bat off the bench, while also getting starts against left-handed pitching. That being said, there’s not much on the free agent market in terms of starters for third base. It’s basically Justin Turner and a bunch of dudes that aren’t starters.
Of course, Turner would be an interesting signing for the Mets. Turner was non-tendered by the Mets in 2013 with Alderson at the helm. Justin then signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers exactly seven years ago today, and that worked out pretty good:
.302/.382/.503 and 28.9 WAR over seven seasons in LA
Turner can absolutely still hit, his batted ball profile remains strong and he had a 140 wRC+ in the shortened 2020 season. Defense is where the questions arise for the 36-year-old, he was -2 outs above average at third base (the same number as Davis) last season. Before that, he was 4 OAA in 2019, -4 OAA in 2018, and 7 OAA in 2017.
Turner returning to the Mets with Alderson at the helm would certainly be interesting, but I would venture a guess that he lands back with the Dodgers to finish his career despite recent interest from the Brewers.
After Turner, here’s the rest of the players listed at third base (with stats from 2020) for free agents by MLB Trade Rumors:
Asdrubal Cabrera (35) 98 wRC+, 3 OAA at 3B (4 OAA overall defensively)
Zack Cozart (35) Did not play in 2020
Maikel Franco (28) 106 wRC+, -2 OAA at 3B
Todd Frazier (35) 89 wRC+, 0 OAA at 3B (-1 OAA overall)
Marwin Gonzalez (32) 66 wRC+, 0 0AA at 3B (4 OAA overall)
Jedd Gyorko (32) 119 wRC+, 1 OAA at 3B
Brock Holt (33) 53 wRC+, -1 OAA at 3B (-1 overall)
Jake Lamb (30) 77 wRC+ overall (141 with A’s), -2 OAA at 3B
Brad Miller (31) 121 wRC+, -3 OAA at 3B, (-2 overall)
Travis Shaw (31) 92 wRC+, -1 OAA at 3B (0 overall)
Like I said, not much there in terms of a starter or upgrade over Davis. I used the third base list as the main reference point because I believe that if Mets don’t add a starting caliber infielder, it will definitely be a bench player capable of playing third.
Cabrera had a solid all-around season in 2020, Franco struggles defensively don’t make him a likely match, Frazier’s offense took a dip, Gonzalez was bad offensively in 2020 (Mets have shown interest), Gyorko looks like one of the best options, Holt struggled badly last year, Lamb hit well for A’s, Miller would be the offense-only option, and Shaw has struggled for two straight seasons.
That uninspired list is why I keep thinking about the trade market, and more superficially, Kris Bryant.
There’s been reports all offseason of the Mets having interest in Bryant, makes sense as the Cubs have been looking to cut payroll and the new owner in Flushing has shown the willingness to add it. And before you try to tell me about the were Ricketts supposedly says the Cubs can now add payroll, look at the fact that they put deferred money in the contract for recent signee, Trevor Williams.
Bryant struggled in 2020, there’s no way to look around that. However, he pushed himself to play through multiple nagging injuries that pretty obviously hurt his game. He’s still only 29 years old, and one shortened season removed from posting a 135 wRC+ and 4.8 fWAR.
If healthy, I have few worries that Bryant can perform offensively. On defense, Bryant was average at third in 2020 (0 OAA). The previous three seasons, he was 3 OAA combined at the hot corner.
I don’t see the cost of Bryant — given his $19.5 million salary for 2021 and only one year of control — being that high as teams continue to get less than expected returns in trades dumping salary.
Outside of Bryant, the Mets have also shown interest in third baseman Eugenio Suárez from the Reds and Kyle Seager from the Mariners. Though, sources tell me that talks with the Mariners never gained traction.
Suárez, 29, has a career 114 wRC+ with 162 home runs in seven seasons, including a 109 wRC+ in 2020. At third base, he had was 1 OAA defensively in 2020 and is 10 OAA in four seasons of tracking the data. Suarez is owed $43.5 million over the next four years that includes a $15 million option ($2 million buyout) for 2025.
Seager, 33, had a nice season in 2020 with a 118 wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR in 60 games. The left-handed hitting third baseman is owed $18.5 million in 2021 and a trade triggers a $15 player option for 2022. Defensive metrics had him as an average (0 OAA) defender at third in 2020.
Let’s say the Mets miss out on Turner and none of the three trade options are available a price they’re comfortable with, what’s the next move to improve the third base/infield depth?
After shifting through all of these options (as well as guys like Jonathan Shoop and Jonathan Villar), my suggestion would be Jedd Gyorko.
The 32-year-old infielder hit .248/.333/.504 with nine home runs in 43 games for the Brewers in 2020. The right-handed hitter has only one season since 2016 when he didn’t post a wRC+ of at least 111, that happened in 2019 as he battled a wrist injury that ultimately needed surgery.
As you can see from his 2020 numbers, he’s still barreling a ton of balls, walks plenty, and has plus power.
Now, the biggest reason we are even looking at third base options is that Davis has struggled defensively at third, so how is Gyorko there?
2017: 10 OAA at third base (also played LF, 1B, 2B)
2018: 1 OAA at third base (played SS, 2B, 1B)
2019: 4 OAA at third base (played 2B, 1B)
2020: 1 OAA at third base (played 1B)
Gyorko has been above average defensively at third base all four seasons it’s been tracked by Baseball Savant. He’s also played 390 career games at second base and been average there (0 OAA).
The right-handed hitter is probably looking at a one-year deal around $2–3 million (salary was $1 million in 2020), that type of deal gives the Mets flexibility to sign a Jackie Bradley Jr., Trevor Bauer, etc.
Whether it’s Bryant, Gyorko, or one of the other names I’ve mentioned, it’s clear the Mets can’t go into the 2021 season with their current state of infield depth.