The Mets entered the 2020 offseason with a surplus of major league infielders. But then the league suspended Robinson Cano for the entirety of the 2021 season for his use of performance-enhancing drugs. The Mets still have too many major league level infielders, though, to give everyone adequate playing time.
It’s a good problem to have. If the status quo remains, the Mets will enter 2021 with incredible depth at first base in Pete Alonso and Dom Smith, an All-Star second baseman in Jeff McNeil, two major league shortstops in Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez, a rising star at third base in J.D. Davis, and a touted fielder in Luis Guillorme that can play any infield position. The Mets have a lot of holes on the roster to fill, but the infield is pretty sealed as it stands.
This makes the prospect of the Mets signing any of the free agent infielders non-tendered on Wednesday a bit dubious if the status quo remains, but there are possibilities where the Mets might require some infield depth for the upcoming season. A potential trade for Francisco Lindor would probably require one of Rosario or Gimenez and may also require McNeil, Smith, or Davis, opening up a spot on the infield. Someone could get catastrophically injured or suspended for the season. Davis or Smith could make a permanent move to the outfield. None of these scenarios are assured, but they’re realistic enough to warrant a look at the newly bolstered infield free agent market.
The Mets have the most enviable first base situation in the majors, so the idea of them signing anyone is ludicrous, much less the two first basemen non-tendered on Wednesday. The Cardinals non-tendered Rangel Ravelo yesterday, likely because he’s a 28-year old light-hitting first baseman who won’t see much playing time behind Paul Goldschmidt. The Rangers non-tendered Danny Santana, who aside from a solid rookie season in 2014 and an above-average 2019, hasn’t hit nearly well enough to justify significant major league time. With Alonso and Smith already too good to fit into one position, there’s no reason for the Mets to consider either player.
The most important question the Mets should consider when looking for a free-agent infielder is whether they would provide more value than Guillorme, a stout defender who has also doubled his wRC+ each of the last two seasons, albeit with limited playing time. The best of these options was probably Kyle Farmer, who the Reds non-tendered and then immediately re-signed to a one-year deal. Neither Hanser Alberto nor Greg Garcia, non-tendered by the Orioles and Padres respectively, would qualify. Alberto is three years younger and the better hitter of the two, but he has had only one above average season, registering a 1.9 fWAR in 2019. With no other non-tendered options at second base, the Mets would be smart to stick with McNeil and Guillorme.
The Mets’ situation at shortstop is perhaps the most interesting on their roster. Having two highly-touted prospects with significant major league experience qualifies as depth at that position. But the Mets are four seasons into the Amed Rosario experience without any indication he will become the franchise shortstop he was expected to be, and while Andres Gimenez impressed many with a great rookie season, granting him the starting position with just 49 games of major league experience seems risky as well. Of course, this question gets answered quickly with a Francisco Lindor trade, and perhaps there might even be an avenue via the two non-tendered shortstops now looking for a job.
Daniel Robertson quietly had a great season in 2018 as a utility man for the Rays before falling off completely in 2019 and then seeing limited time with the Giants in 2020. If the Mets think the bat he showed two seasons ago can manifest again, he could serve as a more offensively-minded Guillorme type, a backup who could play any position and a be right-handed bat off the bench. Better options like Didi Gregorious and Marcus Semien still exist in the free agent market, but if the Mets are looking to spend on free agents at catcher and in the outfield, then a cheap pickup like Robertson might make sense as a backup solution, especially if Guillorme is needed elsewhere. But if Rosario and Gimenez both stay healthy, there’s no reason for the Mets to sign Robertson.
The other recently non-tendered shortstop is 22-year-old Jeison Guzman, a career minor leaguer for the Royals. The Mets have already given a career minor-league a major league contract this offseason, but Guzman won’t be the next. As Steve pointed out in August, the one position where there is minor league depth within the organization is at shortstop, and giving Guzman a major-league contract wouldn’t make much sense since he wouldn’t be anything more than a depth signing.
The biggest question mark on the infield for the Mets lies at third base. The team can comfortably project J.D. Davis as the starter, but questions abound about his defense and his potential need in left field. McNeil can slot in very well at the position, but that would leave an opening at second base. And if either of them leave in a trade without the Mets receiving a competent replacement, then the organizational answer is Guillorme and a big shrug.
Much like at first, second, and shortstop, the non-tender process offers two options for the Mets at third. But unlike those other positions, both might offer reasonable solutions to a J.D. Davis-sized hole at third. Travis Shaw has been a good major leaguer for most of his six-year career, putting up back-to-back 30+ home run seasons in Milwaukee in 2017 and 2018. Injuries in 2019 and a below-average season amongst the Blue Jays super infield in 2020 leave him jobless now, but there’s plenty of reason to believe he can still produce at a major league level. He’s also the Mayor of Ding Dong City according to Baseball-Reference, which is a plus.
The last non-tendered candidate might elicit antipathy amongst Mets fans, but among these eight there’s no better infield option for the Mets than Maikel Franco. Franco played in all 60 games for the Royals last year and put up a 106 wRC+, his best since his rookie season in Philadelphia in 2015. Fitting a former Phillies cornerstone into the Mets roster might taste a little bitter, but at his worst Franco brings a solid right-handed bat off the bench, and at his best he can be an above-average corner infielder. He even put up a positive UZR/150 (3.3) at third base last season, which isn’t something Davis can claim at any position. It might be a shock to see Franco in orange and blue next season, but it shouldn’t be discounted. If the Mets feel the need to sign any of these eight infielders, Franco should be the first they look at.