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The Mets’ infield conundrum

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Jed Lowrie adds to the Mets’ bevy of infielders, but what to do with them all?

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Mets made a solid move on Thursday, bringing in free agent infielder Jed Lowrie on an economical two-year deal. Lowrie is coming off a strong 2018 season and is a valuable addition to the team, but he also brings their headcount of likely Opening Day roster infielders to six. How will the Mets manage these newfound riches?

The middle infield starting spots, barring injuries, are virtual locks. Amed Rosario will be installed at shortstop for the foreseeable future, and All-Star trade acquisition Robinson Cano will be at his usual second base. It looks to be one of the team’s best defensive duos in years, and they should bring a stabilizing force to a crew that has been in flux recently.

The question marks crop up in regards to the corner slots. Jeff McNeil, on the heels of a 137 wRC+ rookie season, was the presumptive third baseman once Cano arrived, but Lowrie’s recent performance certainly warrants a starting role. This would push McNeil into a bench role, which may be disappointing given his breakout, but makes for an excellent pinch hitting option. It might also be a good time for McNeil to dig up an outfield glove to grow his playing time opportunities.

Jersey boy Todd Frazier had a disappointing 2018 campaign, but he has the most first base experience of anyone on the roster, except for Dominic Smith, who is almost certainly on his way to Syracuse given the current state of roster gridlock. A strong spring training from first base prospect Peter Alonso will bring the calls for his promotion to a fever pitch, but keeping him down for just two weeks will net a full year of extra control for the Mets, so someone will be manning that spot in the interim and Frazier is the strongest contender.

The wild card in all this is J.D. Davis, acquired from the Astros for three top-20 prospects. Despite an anemic major league performance to date, the high price the Mets were willing to pay strongly indicates they have every intention of having him start the year with the big league team. He has a bit of experience in the outfield, but his primary spots are first and third base, which is somewhat redundant to the role Frazier serves, especially since they both bat right-handed.

Between Lowrie, Rosario, Cano, Davis, Frazier, and McNeil—to say nothing of Alonso or the forgotten Dom Smith—something’s gotta give before Opening Day. A trade seems the most likely resolution, with Frazier and McNeil offering two very different approaches. Frazier would be a salary dump, at best, and they might even find themselves just having to cut him outright as his 2018 season was the worst of his career, and his profile isn’t generally one that ages gracefully. But letting him go, even if the only gain is a roster spot, would leave the team with their best potential collection of players as currently constructed.

McNeil has the potential to bring in something of real value. Despite a lack of prospect pedigree, he appeared every inch the real deal last year after destroying the minors for half a decade and would be under team control through his entire peak. If the Mets are looking to shore up their starting outfield or their pitching staff without going through free agency, he may represent their best way of doing so.

But with such a focus on building layers of depth this offseason, the Mets may opt not to move anyone at all. That might mean waiting out a nearly inevitable spring training injury, relying on Davis or McNeil as fifth outfielders, or even starting a viable major leaguer with options in the minors just to keep the full slate of players available to them in case of emergency. Alongside Smith, Alonso, Luis Guillorme, and T.J. Rivera, this would be almost an embarrassment of riches of organizational depth. But if the Mets have proven anything over the past decade, it’s that you can never have too many backups.