The Mets went through some dark periods in their whirlwind 2021 season. One of those dark times was a stretch in May when the Mets went from having a mostly-healthy team to a completely decimated lineup within the span of about a week. For a little while it seemed like it was quite literally every day the Mets would wind up with another player or three on the IL, and it got to a point where where they had nearly 20 players on the IL at one time.
Things got so bad that the Mets had to scrounge up names from anywhere they could find them just to field a team. Whether it was Cameron Maybin or Mason Williams or Wilfredo Tovar, the Mets tried throwing whatever they could out there to see if anyone stuck.
There was really one player of these ReplaceMets that did stick for a little while, and it was Billy McKinney. The former first-round pick and top-100 prospect had lost significant shine over the years as he never found his stroke in the big leagues. He had been traded three times in his career, from the A’s to the Cubs as one of the prizes of the Addison Russel trade, from the Cubs to the Yankees as one of the pieces in the Aroldis Chapman deal, and from the Yankees to the Blue Jays in return for J.A. Happ.
McKinney’s circuitous career found him in Milwaukee to start the 2021 season, and he got off to a roaring start for them in April, but he was DFA’d after sinking his OPS+ to a measly 64 by late May. That was perfect timing warm-body-needing Mets, who called up Milwaukee and became the fourth team to trade for McKinney in his career.
Within the span of 24 hours, McKinney went from DFA limbo to batting cleanup for the desperate Mets. Amazingly, he played extremely well in his few weeks in Queens and turned out to be a big reason the Mets kept their heads above water in the late spring. He provided exactly what the Mets needed, slashing .283/.353/.696 with four homers, 5 doubles, and 12 RBIs in just his first 50 PAs with the team. His hot hitting even got him promoted to the leadoff position a few times because the Mets had nobody else to do it.
Eventually, McKinney cooled off, and his role dramatically shrunk when the Mets started getting some guys back. He was still providing some pop off the bench throughout June and early July, but when J.D. Davis returned from his injury after the All-Star Break, McKinney was the roster casualty.
The Mets seemed reluctant to let the 27-year-old go, but it had to be done. They wound up designating McKinney for assignment and trading him to the Dodgers—the fifth trade of McKinney’s career. In return, the Mets received Carlos Rincon, a very nice return for a DFA trade. Rincon hit well enough for Double-A Binghamton that he may even show up on some Mets prospect lists this offseason.
McKinney played out the rest of the season with Los Angeles, and somehow lasted all the way to the NLCS with them despite only hitting for a .507 OPS after he was acquired by LA.
McKinney’s 110 OPS+ with the Mets represents his best stint with any team this season by a significant margin. In hindsight, it actually looks like the team’s handling of him was one of the few examples of good process from this front office this year. They found a guy on the scrap heap with enough potential to catch fire for a few weeks, he did, and then they cut bait before he became a real liability and got something of potential value for him. It was pretty much a best-case scenario all the way around.