Back in spring training, when the win-now Mets assured us they would take the best 25 players north for Opening Day, we initially had our doubts.
But Brodie Van Wagenen made good on that pledge. He refused to bow to service-time considerations and promoted Pete Alonso anyway. In the GM’s mind, Alonso deserved the roster spot, the Mets were a better team with him, end of story.
That decision turned out pretty well.
There are more of these decisions looming on the horizon, however, as the Mets will soon have an imperfect roster for a club with designs on the NL East title. And this isn’t the Grapefruit League. The sense of urgency in Flushing got kicked up a notch Friday when COO Jeff Wilpon huddled with Van Wagenen and Mickey Callaway in a 90-minute meeting that served as a mid-May performance review, according to sources.
Going over the roster, piece by piece, the trio made note of what was working effectively and what was not. Figuring out who belongs in each category isn’t difficult for anyone that’s watched the team on a regular basis. Fixing the issues, however, may involve some tough choices before too long.
One seemed immediate as J.D. Davis made his third straight start at third base in Saturday night’s 4-1 victory over the Marlins. Todd Frazier, despite his $9-million salary, appears relegated to a backup role, and soon will be further marginalized when Jed Lowrie is activated Tuesday in Washington, if all goes according to plan.
Frazier won’t be the roster casualty, though, and neither will Davis, as the Mets see things right now. The likely candidate, in this fluid scenario, is Adeiny Hechavarria, who probably won’t be claimed on waivers (due to his $3M salary) and will end up back in Syracuse as insurance.
That’s fine for now. But demoting Hechavarria doesn’t do much to solve the redundancies built in to the Mets’ roster over the winter that are hurting them in May. Once Lowrie gets here, and proves to be a solid major-leaguer again, Frazier — currently hitting .143 (7-for-49) with 17 Ks — becomes the team’s fourth-best third baseman. Not a very helpful role on a supposedly contending team.
Eventually, that’s going to become a problem, if Davis continues to produce and Lowrie stays healthy. At this point, however, the Mets don’t feel like it’s something they have to address. Frazier is a good clubhouse guy, and a CAA client — Brodie’s former agency — so the 33-year-old will get a longer look, despite what should be limited chances.
The other conundrum involves the bookend centerfielders, Juan Lagares and Keon Broxton. In these two, the Mets have nearly identical glove-first, weak righty-hitting options. They’re basically the same low-performance player taking up two roster spots. Van Wagenen traded for Broxton in January because he didn’t know what Lagares would provide after missing most of last season due to toe surgery.
Another wrinkle? Lagares is pulling down $9 million this season (not a typo) while Broxton — though out of minor-league options — is under team control through 2022, so the choice becomes eat a huge chunk of salary or punt on Broxton’s cost-effective potential. Neither one would come close to cracking the starting lineup if Brandon Nimmo wasn’t struggling so badly.
Carrying both is like the Mets playing nightly with one arm tied behind their back. No team needs two sub-.200 defensive specialists, even in the National League. But the Mets don’t view this as simple as crossing out names on a stat sheet, even as they fight to get over .500 and chase down the Phillies. With none of the East teams jumping out to a big lead, the Mets feel like they can still preserve assets while turning things around. But those can turn out to be conflicting interests.
“I think that we are always going to try to keep the best 25,” Callaway said before Saturday’s game. “Do I think that everybody’s going to always agree who the best 25 are? Probably not. That’s just the reality. Everybody evaluates people differently. The one thing I will say is we have all the information to try and put the best team out there.”
By information, Callaway was referring to which players are suited for whatever might be required of them, as in certain roles, flexibility, etc. But it’s not really that complicated. At this level, there are no secrets when it comes to performance. You don’t need any advanced statistical data to determine who is contributing enough to help a team win baseball games.
The Mets are 2-0 since Friday’s emergency Citi summit, rolling by an aggregate score of 15-3 over the mail-it-in Marlins. Timing is everything when it comes to meetings, but the Mets’ definition of “best” may need to be re-calibrated in the not-too-distant future.