To say the Mets have a battle to make the playoffs ahead of them is an understatement. The Phillies, Nationals, and Braves are all talented teams within the division, and that does not even mention that the National League is likely to have a more competitive Wild Card than the American League. So, naturally, the Mets are going to need a few things to break in their direction in order for them to return to October baseball. While there are plenty of obvious things that can make or break the Mets season—read: players staying healthy—one player of underrated importance is Amed Rosario.
Rosario has turned an elite prospect background into rather middling major league production. He hit .248/.271/.394 with a 75 wRC+ in his first 170 plate appearances of his career in 2017, and he hit .256/.295/.381 with an 85 wRC+ in his first full season last year. He did, however, finish the season strongly, hitting .286/.319/.411 with a 102 wRC+ in August and .283/.317.416 with a 102 wRC+ in September. Rosario has built upon those hot two months by killing it in spring training, though spring training numbers are hardly useful going into the regular season.
The importance of Amed Rosario is two-fold. On one hand, Rosario repeating his late-2018 escapades and providing above-average offensive output for his position—shortstops hit .255/.314/.409 with 95 wRC+ last year—would lengthen the lineup considerably. Until Jed Lowrie and/or Todd Frazier return, an amalgamation of Juan Lagares and Keon Broxton will take the reps in center field, and both of those players are noted for their defense, not so their offense. Behind them comes the pitcher’s spot, which is always a relatively easy out. So Rosario hitting well would provide a weapon at the bottom portion of the lineup behind the top of the order.
The second reason why Rosario is quietly key for the Mets is the depth behind him is, in a word, rough. There are two names that would take the lion’s share of the innings at shortstop should something happen to Rosario: Adeiny Hechavarría and Luis Guillorme. Hechavarría, who was recently optioned to the minor leagues and will start in Triple-A Syracuse, has a long history of being a good defender and struggling at the plate. His highest wRC+ in his career was an 89, and that was all the way back in 2015. Last year, he had a 67 wRC+. Guillorme seems to be the main beneficiary from Hechavarría being sent down, as he looks to be the utility infielder as of now.
Guillorme is a rather intriguing prospect, due to his strong chops in the field as well as quality offense in the minors, but his major league numbers are rough. He hit just .209/..284/.239, good for a 53 wRC+, though DRC+ likes him a lot more and gave him a 92, which is interesting. But he had just 74 plate appearances. He did not play any shortstop in the bigs last season, but there is little reason to think he could not handle that part of the game.
It would be foolish to write off Guillorme after just 74 plate appearances, but he is also a big question mark with the bat—we simply do not know what he is at the major league level right now. And he is certainly the best option to back up Rosario.
Andres Gimenez, a shortstop by trade, is an exciting prospect, but he is not ready to make any significant contributions to the major league club yet. There are other vets like Danny Espinosa and newly-brought-home Ruben Tejada, but it is hard to expect much out of either of them.
On the major league side, there is one name who probably should slot in as the backup shortstop: Jeff McNeil. It probably would not be pretty defensively, but he would likely be a well-above average bat at the position, which would certainly outweigh the defensive drawbacks he would bring. Outside of him, however, there is basically no other options.
Jed Lowrie used to be a shortstop, but he has not logged significant innings there since 2014. He also, as you are probably well aware, is nursing a knee injury. No thank you.
J.D. Davis, who looks like he should make the team, has no business being a shortstop, he is corner infield/outfield depth.
The rest of the likely Opening Day roster is one of Tomas Nido/Travis d’arnaud, Pete Alonso, Dom Smith, and the outfielders. If one of them is logging time at shortstop than all Hell has broken loose in Flushing.
The Mets have decent depth on other parts of the diamond, but there is a rather big hole behind Rosario on the depth chart. The only real player of note that they signed to back up Rosario was Hechavarría, and a weak spring got him booted to Triple-A. The Reds signed Jose Iglesias, who is also a very good defender but is a bit more capable with the bat, as evidenced by his career 83 wRC+ and 90 wRC+ last season. They could have signed Brad Miller, who just landed Cleveland. He would have given them an even more versatile bench piece, as he has logged time at literally every position on the diamond that is not catcher, and he would have brought a career 99 wRC+ with him to boot.
The Mets preached depth throughout the offseason, and overall they did not really do a terrible job shoring up it. They did, however, leave the shortstop cupboard rather bare, and that increases Amed Rosario’s importance to the Mets infinitely.