Earlier this week, Brandon Nimmo was sent down to Triple-A Las Vegas. While this was not a popular move with Mets fans, and for good reason, it illustrated something that has been quite obvious over the first two weeks of the season: the veterans that the Mets brought in or retained this offseason have paid off thus far.
As of October 2017, it felt absolutely possible, if not probable, that the Mets would be their typical, thrifty selves over the winter, which would lead to this year being a sink or swim season for a number of their high-level prospects. Without Jay Bruce, Nimmo is likely starting every day, or at least platooning with Juan Lagares, in the outfield. Without Adrian Gonzalez, Dominic Smith would be holding down first base. And without Todd Frazier at third base and Asdrubal Cabrera at second, there’s every chance that Wilmer Flores and Luis Guillorme are rounding out your all-youth infield.
And that may have worked out quite well. There are plenty of believers in all of those players, but the Mets didn’t go that way. Instead, they brought in veteran talent at a often bargain price and gave the team something they so sorely lacked last season: depth.
All of this is colored quite differently coming off a 10-1 start to the season, but it looks right now like the Mets may be insulated from some of the precipitous drop-off that happened last season when the injury bug hit
some most of the club. And, beyond that, the Mets have taken most of the pressure off of their young players, and they’re giving a number of them time to truly conquer the minors before being expected to be big league stars.
Nimmo is the obvious exception to this conversation. He is quite clearly ready for a spot in Queens, but there’s no obvious way to get him more playing time. Gonzalez’s surprising start has delayed the “Jay Bruce to first base” rumors that would give Nimmo a more clear role on the team. While having him spell all three outfielders sounds easy enough, new manager Mickey Callaway may be hesitant to disrupt the routine of his regulars. This seems especially true after Yoenis Cespedes asked to keep playing through his flu-like illness and Bruce and others requesting to play Monday after a late arrival in Miami. If the Mets feel like Nimmo needs regular at-bats, and they can’t find a way to get them on the major league roster, then this move makes sense.
But any such concerns over Nimmo don’t appear to be shared by supporters of Smith or Guillmore. Smith, who had a pretty miserable initial call-up last season, was injured for most of the spring, and he’ll likely benefit from additional time to adjust his game to his slimmer frame and retooled swing. If he is hitting the cover off the ball come July and Gonzalez is slumping, the promotion will feel quite different than if he had made the team out of spring training—especially if he struggles again.
Guillorme, who it seems generally accepted will get a shot at being the team’s second baseman of the future, had a breakout performance this spring, but he had not yet played a single game at Triple-A. There is no reason to rush him to the majors, especially with the plethora of infielders the Mets have at their disposal.
This is especially true in the case of the Mets’ current second baseman, Cabrera. Aside from his two tape-measure home runs in Miami, he seems far better suited to be playing second base than he did playing shortstop or third last season, and his $8.25 million option seems more than fair thus far. Obviously, he won’t hit .333/.388/.600 all season, but he doesn’t need to do that to justify his playing time.
And while Frazier’s signing was not met with the same derision that the Gonzalez signing or the Cabrera pickup, it did mean much more limited playing time for Flores. But Callaway has done a nice job of finding playing time for Flores, which also somewhat hurts the “Nimmo needed to be demoted” argument. But I digress; Flores doesn’t have a natural position the way Nimmo does, nor does he have three legitimate All-Star candidates to push out for a start here or there. While Flores and Frazier may come out closer than would be expected statistically this season, Flores is likely most valuable in the role he is in right now: infield super sub.
Look, I get it. It’s not sexy to see an infield made up mostly of guys in their mid-30s, especially when there are highly touted prospects waiting in the wings. But allowing the Mets’ younger players a chance to perform under ideal circumstances is a rare situation the team finds themselves in. If Gonzalez had busted out the gate, or if Cabrera hadn’t crushed two homers in the Mets’ Tuesday night comeback against the Marlins, we may be sitting here bemoaning the same old Mets, refusing to cut bait with under-performing veterans.
And yes, I recognize the hypocrisy in saying this while the team is still playing Jose Reyes.
But the Mets, who have a lineup as deep and balanced as we’ve seen in recent memory, now have legitimate options at most positions as the season wears on. While there may not be an Amed Rosario or Michael Conforto in the wings, the Mets are both playing to win right now and also building up their young players.
That said? Let’s get Nimmo back up soon.