The Mets made their first splash of the offseason on Friday by signing free agent infielder Eduardo Escobar to a two-year, $20 million deal. It wasn’t quite the infielder signing many Mets fans were hoping for, but it’s one that unquestionably improves the team’s infield depth, most especially at third base.
The 11-year veteran could theoretically serve at second base and shortstop, but he’s played more than half his games at third base and even received his first All-Star appearance at the position last season. That’s good news for the Mets, whose biggest infield hole remains at the hot corner after the team gave essentially gave the starting position to Jonathan Villar last season. With Villar now a free agent, the realistic options at third on the active roster are Escobar, J.D. Davis, and Jeff McNeil, all of whom have shown flashes of brilliance over the past few seasons, but none of whom fit squarely as the obvious choice to fill the position.
With Escobar earning at least 3.0 fWAR in three of the last four seasons—his lone ineffective year in that stretch came in the shortened 2020 season—it can be reasonably argued that he represents an immediate and significant upgrade at third base for the Mets next season. And with no guarantee that either Davis or McNeil will even be with the team when the season begins, or that they won’t occupy another position if they stay, it makes the case for Escobar starting at third base even stronger. The only in-house solution that may look more attractive than Escobar is Javy Báez choosing to sign and taking his rocket arm from second base to third. But the odds of that are pretty slim, and barring no other significant changes to the infield this offseason, Mets fans can safely pencil in Escobar as the opening day third baseman.
That isn’t the team’s ideal solution at third base, of course, for more than a few reasons. For one, superior free agent infielders like Kris Bryant and Chris Taylor remain available for the Mets to sign, and signing Escobar so early in the proceedings without another free agent target in play certainly feels like a penny-pinching move. For another, Escobar will be 33 years old at the beginning of next season, which could make him the oldest starter on the team should he be the Mets opening day third baseman (and should Robinson Canó not be a regular starter). And though Escobar has experienced a late-career resurgence, there should also be a lot of doubt that he can continue his streak of production now entering his twelfth major league season.
There exists a possibility that Escobar could play as the team’s super-utility player if the Mets choose to pursue a bigger target at third like Bryant or Matt Chapman. Especially if Davis and/or McNeil were dealt away, Escobar could serve as the team’s primary backup in several positions (left field included if necessary) and a spot starter in case of long-term injuries to other infielders. There also exists the possibility that Escobar could serve as the team’s hedge at second base should Báez choose to sign elsewhere and Canó not return to his preferred spot on the field. Mets fans should likely prefer the first of these possibilities, though with so much money handed to Escobar it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he took his spot at third base to start the season.
All of that is speculation until the dust settles, so it might be better to observe Escobar with how he fits with the team right now. He looks to be an upgrade over McNeil or Davis this year and is certainly an upgrade over Villar last year. He has excellent character recommendations, with both Taijuan Walker and Trevor May singing his praises soon after the signing. And though his age might play a factor in his performance, he could provide some veteran leadership the team seemed to lack on the field last season. There’s a great chance he will add solid value to the team over the next couple of seasons, but where on the field exactly is still somewhat of a mystery.