In Todd Frazier’s indefinite absence, the Mets have three options for third base: Jose Reyes, a former franchise icon who has struggled in a part-time role this season; Ty Kelly, a journeyman and utility man; and Wilmer Flores, whose hot bat has pushed manager Mickey Callaway to make him the de facto first-string first baseman in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, for the third time in three games since Frazier went down with a left rib cage muscle strain, Reyes started at third. And that could be the norm for however long Frazier is out.
“He’s been playing pretty good baseball lately when we’ve put him in there, so I think he deserves to have a shot at third,” Callaway said.
By going with Reyes, who entered Tuesday batting .168 with a .238 OBP and .235 slugging percentage, the Mets are in effect choosing Reyes over Dominic Smith, who a year ago was a top-100 prospect in baseball and considered by many as the Mets’ first baseman of the future. If Callaway played Flores — who based on pure merit is most deserving of playing time of this corner-infielder bunch — it would open up first base for Smith.
Tuesday’s lineup took it one step further, with Kelly playing left, Smith’s secondary position. Callaway said that was a product of a particularly busy stretch for the Mets — 11 games in 10 days, including a doubleheader Monday — and trying to give everybody a rest. Smith started both games Monday.
“It was trying to get the freshest team out there today,” Callaway said. “Obviously with the doubleheader, guys played a lot. That was more of the thinking, not necessarily the at-bats and things like that.”
The on-field reasons for the organization’s preference for Reyes are not clear. Callaway said Reyes has been playing well, but aside from a strong week or so in mid-June, that hasn’t been the case from at least a pure results perspective. Reyes has a .077/.077/.154 slash line the past week, .059/.059/.118 the past two weeks and .200/.280/.289 the past four weeks. He also hasn’t been particularly sharp defensively, including Monday when he nearly threw away a routine grounder and caught a pop-up near the third-base line that shortstop Amed Rosario was settled under.
Playing Flores — at first, third or in the case of the nightcap Monday at second — is a far easier decision. Since returning from the disabled list June 15, Flores is batting .308 with a .590 slugging percentage, spurring trade speculation.
While noting that the Mets have to be wary of playing Flores every day because he tires, Callaway said Flores’ hitting ability is there.
“He’s obviously performed at a very high level right now. It’d be nice to have him in there every day,” Callaway said. “He can definitely hit as an everyday player. He’s hitting righties. Obviously, he’s had some struggles against lefties this year, which is kind of an anomaly because he’s always been very good, but the kid can hit.”
Smith, meanwhile, is biding his time until he gets a shot. As the Mets more fully embrace the developmental nature of their second half — with an eye toward 2019 — Smith is a safe bet to see more time. Like Reyes, Smith has struggled to find his offensive footing in sporadic playing time, slashing .185/.209/.338 entering Tuesday.
He said he has been working with hitting coaches Pat Roessler and Tom Slater to refine his hitting stance, including not spreading his feet as wide as he was earlier in the season.
For now, Smith continues to sit in favor of Reyes.
“We have several options,” Callaway said, “but I like Reyes over there.”