Jake Marisnick, acquired from the Astros in December for a pair of minor leaguers, enters the season with the Mets with one directive: be better than Juan Lagares. And Aaron Altherr. And Keon Broxton. And Carlos Gomez.
Luckily for Marisnick and the Mets, this is an extremely easy bar to clear. 2019 Mets center fielders not named Brandon Nimmo hit .196/.265/.304 across 472 plate appearances while striking out over 30% of the time and also performing below league average defensively. Their collective deficiency was remarkable in both its thoroughness and its consistency.
The first step towards a successful season for Marisnick involves not giving him 472 plate appearances. Certainly the ineptitude of the Mets’ backup center field options wasn’t helped by Nimmo’s extended absence. Nimmo’s clean bill of health and eye-popping spring training performance certainly suggest Marisnick has a good chance of spending an appropriate amount of time on the bench, but this being the Mets, anything is possible.
Keeping Marisnick off the field is the best way to get good performance out of him because on the field, the 29-year-old has yet to prove he can produce it in any other way. His lone above-average season came in 2017 with the none other than the Astros, and even then he was putting up a .319 on-base percentage while knowing what pitches were coming. He has been a low batting average, low on-base hitter even when stealing signs, though a 2017-19 spike in his isolated slugging percentage suggests the Astros’ cheating may have helped there as well.
You can make the argument that Marisnick isn’t here for his offense and that the .225/.268/.339 line he put up in his career prior to the Astros garbage-can-banging is good enough if he can still get it out in center field, but the two issues with that are (a) it’s probably still not good enough to make him a net positive and (b) his defense over the years has steadily remained in the “good not great” category, which isn’t going to cut it if he’s a nonfactor as a pinch hitter.
At the end of the day, there’s really no such thing as a bad one-year contract, and the list of good defensive center fielders who can hit well is short enough that most teams have to compromise when it comes to backing up the position, even if they are willing to open the checkbooks. But the secret to enjoying Jake Marisnick this year is simple: low expectations.