While the Mets did not have a great day overall yesterday, the team made one trade that should help in a very tangible way over the final two months of the 2021 season: trading for Javier Báez. The Mets got right-handed pitcher Trevor Williams in that deal, too, and he might also be able to contribute. But the immediate impact of the deal will be the presence of Báez.
While Francisco Lindor remains on the injured list, Báez figures to be the Mets’ everyday shortstop. That’s his primary position, one he has played for the majority of his major league career and the only one he has played since the beginning of the 2019 season aside from nine innings at third base and one-third of an inning in left field.
With Báez at short for now, the Mets’ infield options at the other positions won’t be any different than they would have been if Lindor were healthy. Jeff McNeil figures to get the bulk of the playing time at second base, J.D. Davis and Jonathan Villar are the most likely players to get starts at third base, and Luis Guillorme is an option to start at any of those three positions. First base remains the domain of Pete Alonso, with Dom Smith perhaps getting a start once in a great while if Alonso gets a day off.
Once Lindor returns, however, the way the Mets deploy those players becomes a bit more complex. Báez said recently that the only scenario in which he’d move to second base would be one where he was playing next to Francisco Lindor, and that figures to be what happens, assuming both players are healthy at the same time. That bumps McNeil from second base and gives the Mets four options for a starting third baseman: McNeil, Villar, Davis, and Guillorme.
Obviously, there will be more than one odd man out in the infield, which is a good situation for a team to have. And given the track record and the team’s struggles at the plate this year, McNeil is the guy whose spot in the lineup should be prioritized, both because of his track record as a major league hitter and recent performance. The Mets could simply play him regularly at third base and relegate the other three players to bench roles, using Guillorme or Villar for defensive purposes late in games and relying on Davis to be a right-handed power bat off the bench while giving him the occasional start in left field, a position he has played for the Mets but has not played yet in 2021.
But if the Mets really want to prioritize offense, they could shift McNeil to right field, bumping Michael Conforto and his underwhelming bat out of the lineup. McNeil hasn’t played the outfield yet this year, but he has played 916 innings in the outfield in his major league career. For context, he’s played 1,207 innings at second base and a total of 1,457.1 innings in the infield.
That would be a relatively drastic move, but if Conforto still isn’t hitting by the time Lindor gets back, it would be a perfectly reasonable one. And it would give the Mets a starting infield of Alonso, Báez, Lindor, and one of Villar, Davis, or Guillorme. If there are days on which they want to absolutely maximize infield defense, they could go that route with Guillorme. But even on days that they go in the complete opposite direction, playing Davis for offense and knowing they’re sacrificing defense in the process, they’ll have two great defenders playing up the middle.
If ever there’s been a team to demonstrate how foolish it is to assume everyone will be healthy at the same time, it’s the 2021 Mets. But in the event that they achieve that in the infield, they should enjoy the luxury of having several good options at every position on the infield on a daily basis—and might be able to give their outfield a boost, too.