SAN DIEGO — Todd Frazier is not too proud to contemplate his own baseball mortality.
He is 33 and playing poorly. He watched how baseball treated its middle-aged the past two offseasons — which is to say, teams had minimal interest in veterans with declining production — and he will be a free agent again after this season. He freely admits to wondering what this winter might bring for him.
“Always. That’s part of it,” Frazier said. “You see a lot of guys signing early [extensions] now because of the way it’s going downhill, which is unfortunate. I said, ‘I got to have a good year this year.’ I understand that.
“These 49 at-bats, most of them are not who I am because I haven’t been producing. It’s time to step up. It’s time to step up. I’ve been in this scenario before. I’m not a .160 hitter, I know that for sure. It’s time to make an impact.”
Frazier’s struggles, including a .143 average and .425 OPS in 15 games since returning from the injured list, are the latest stage of the strangest, worst year of his career.
Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of a strained hamstring triggering an IL trip for Frazier, who just weeks into his Mets career was sidelined by injury for the first time in eight major-league seasons. It happened again in July with a rib-cage issue. He finished 2018 with a career-low .693 OPS. Then his agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, became the Mets’ general manager.
Frazier showed up to spring training earlier than he ever had — Jan. 27 — in an attempt to be better this season. A strained oblique cost him the first month of the season.
“Isn’t that funny how that happens?” Frazier said. “I go down early to try to kickstart my year, even with three kids, my wife working her tail off with three kids under 5 years old [including a newborn]. And then I get hurt. It’s unfortunate.
“It was my idea [to go to Port St. Lucie early]. I don’t know if this will be my last year with the Mets. I know I’m a free agent after this year, so I want to put my best foot forward and make an impact on this team again.”
That will get harder for Frazier soon. Infielder Jed Lowrie (sprained left knee capsule) could return as soon as next week. He was potentially going to join the struggling Mets (17-20) on Friday as they begin a three-game homestand against the Marlins, but the organization opted to have him continue his rehab assignment.
When Lowrie does come back, the Mets are not considering cutting Frazier to make room for him, a source said. But Lowrie’s presence will mean a more crowded infield picture. Van Wagenen knew the Mets would be in this spot when he added Lowrie on a two-year, $20-million contract in January — in addition to Frazier’s $9-million salary this year — and injuries delayed it, but here they are.
Callaway said some who are used to playing regularly will have to play less frequently. Frazier, the starting third baseman this year and last when healthy, appears set to be most affected. Communication will be important.
“We have to make sure that we’re diligent every day about why and who and how we’re going to do it,” Callaway said. “They have to understand it. They’re going to have to probably swallow a little bit of pride and do something for the team.
“It won’t be easy on them. I understand that. They understand that. But we’re here to win games. And it’s going to be tough and it’s going to be some tough conversations, but those guys can handle it.”
Frazier, who has 17 strikeouts, zero walks and one hit-by-pitch in 50 plate appearances, understands.
“Sure, whatever [Callaway] wants to do,” Frazier said. “Right now, I’m not producing. We all know that. It’s something that is part of the game. I know I’ll be back for sure. It’s his decision at the end, but I got to start putting up some numbers, and that’s the bottom line.”
Still, the Mets say Frazier remains valuable.
Callaway consistently talks up Frazier’s defense — “He does unbelievable things at third base to make our pitching staff better,” he said — and intangibles such as leadership and energy.
And, to that end, slumping or otherwise, you can be sure Frazier won’t stop yakking — with teammates in the dugout and clubhouse, with opposing runners at third, with anybody who will listen.
“That’s one thing about me that will never change,” Frazier said. “You’ll always see me at third base, the excitement about baseball, trying to push everybody. When that stops, I’ll probably stop playing baseball, because that means I don’t care.”