This afternoon, the Mets announced that they were recalling Corey Oswalt and optioning Brandon Nimmo to Triple-A Las Vegas. The move came as a surprise, given that Nimmo has hit .333/.600/.444 (216 wRC+) in the early going as a part-time player.
Nimmo is definitely buried on the depth chart, stuck behind two stars in Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, another solid player in Jay Bruce, and a veteran in Adrian Gonzalez that has performed well to date and should get a longer look to bounce back from a couple of rough years. Indeed, since Conforto returned from the DL, Nimmo has gotten only three plate appearances, all coming off the bench. From that perspective, the move perhaps makes some sense.
Looking at broader context makes that justification quickly wilt, however. Of the four players blocking him, three have had significant recent health issues; Cespedes hasn’t played more than 132 games since 2015 due to leg issues, Gonzalez was almost forced into retirement the last two years due to back trouble, and Conforto suffered a unique shoulder injury down the stretch last season. Jay Bruce is the iron man of the unit, but he also has a history of knee issues and is creeping towards 32. All four of these guys could benefit from somewhat regular rest, a practice that would hopefully keep them healthier and more productive.
Imagine this scenario. In the first week, Adrian Gonzalez and Jay Bruce get days off. Bruce slides to first with Gonzalez out of the lineup, and Nimmo moves into center field, with Conforto going to right. The next week, Cespedes and Conforto get days off, with Nimmo pushing Conforto to left when Cespedes is on the bench. This is a very easy and relatively unobtrusive way of getting Nimmo two starts a week at minimum, along with being the first pinch hitter off the bench.
Instead, the Mets have elected to run a four-man bench with eight relievers. This isn’t an uncommon strategy in modern baseball, with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings. However, one would figure having two recently converted starters—Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo—in the bullpen would give the Mets some extra length and allow them to run with only seven arms. Further, Paul Sewald hasn’t pitched in more than a week after logging two innings on April 1. If there’s already one arm that’s not getting used with a seven man bullpen, why add an eighth?
More egregious than the Mets’ choice to run an eight-man bullpen is to send Nimmo packing while still hanging on to Jose Reyes. Reyes is a below average bat whose “versatility“ amounts to the ability to play every spot on the infield badly. The only real value he offers at this point is his supposed marketability, and that he’s still on the team speaks to this organization’s philosophy of handing out playing time based on contracts rather than merit.
Brandon Nimmo won’t be gone for long, in all likelihood, he’s too good to stay in Las Vegas for months without a grievance being filed, and the team probably won’t be healthy enough to have the luxury of holding him down for that long anyway. It’s perfectly possible the Mets just feel their bullpen is a bit worn down at the moment and want to prepare for Zack Wheeler’s start on Wednesday and that Nimmo will return after the minimum ten-day period in the minors. Still, the thought process that has gone into this decision seems flawed at best, and that the Mets are sending down a fan favorite with little to no baseball-related justification puts a damper on what has been a fast, fun start for the team.