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2017 Mets Season Review: Waiting for T.J. Rivera

T.J. Rivera might have a great bat if he can stay healthy.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It was an interesting—but perhaps too interesting—second major league season for infielder T.J. Rivera. After impressing during a short stint in the Mets’ 2016 campaign, he continued to show glimpses of a bat that might be dependable or maybe even great at the major league level. Injuries and roster changes sidelined him for roughly half the year, though, leaving an open question of just what kind of player Rivera will be in the long term.

Rivera’s season began in earnest with the World Baseball Classic, as part of the Mets’ contingent playing for Puerto Rico. While usually considered a third and second baseman, Rivera primarily played first base throughout the series. He mustered a few good hits but didn’t stand out much on a championship-bound team highlighted by Javier Baez and Yadier Molina. His best performance in the tournament came against Venezuela, a game in which he hit a two-run home run and collected three RBIs in an 11-0 mercy rule rout.

Although Rivera opened the season with the Mets in a bench role, he was sent down to Triple-A Las Vegas on April 14, a casualty of a 16-inning tilt with the Marlins that exhausted the bullpen and required a fresh pitcher. Rivera returned to the majors less than a week later, as injuries to Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores once again created space for him on the roster.

Rivera split time between all three bases this season and hit pretty well in the process. Over 73 total games, he hit .290/.330/.430—good for a .760 OPS and a 103 wRC+. These numbers, while not stellar, all play at the major league level. He kept to the same profile he’s had throughout his entire professional career: a high-average contact hitter. Given the rash of injuries the Mets had in 2017, his bat was a welcome, if not stabilizing, presence in a depleted lineup. His defensive skills continue to be his weakness, as he posted a negative value in Fangraphs’ overall defensive metric on the season.

Near the trade deadline, it was reported that Rivera was drawing some interest from the Boston Red Sox, as were Asdrubal Cabrera and Flores. Ultimately, all three avoided the string of trades that deconstructed the lineup. Surviving the trade deadline didn’t ultimately save Rivera’s season, as he went on the the 10-day disabled list on July 28 with an elbow injury. Shortly after that, it was revealed that Rivera had a tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, which eventually required season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Injury makes what lies next for Rivera remain unclear; one of the many unanswered questions the Mets face heading into the offseason. Tommy John surgery generally requires less recovery time for a position player as opposed to a pitcher, but it isn’t unreasonable to think that he could miss half or more of the 2018 season. Whether or not there’ll be a role for him when he’s ready to return will depend on a whole bunch of other variables.