As the lockout stretches on endlessly, it can be easy to forget that there is still an offseason, and decisions will have to be made when the lockout (hopefully) eventually ends. Last season the Mets were in need of a third baseman, and instead of taking advantage of the platinum glover the Rockies were giving away for free, they again went for the stop-gap solution.
They started the season with J.D. Davis and his known defensive struggles penciled in as the third baseman. Unfortunately for him it was an injury plagued year, so they turned to Jonathan Villar to man the hot corner for much of the season. Villar was serviceable at third and overall the Mets got solid production out of third base and ended up third in the league in fWAR at the position behind only the Cubs and Padres.
It is now 2022 and the Mets once again have no clear third baseman. Villar is a free agent and their big trade deadline acquisition last season in Javier Báez signed with the Tigers. They did sign Eduardo Escobar ,however, and they still have Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis, and Luis Guillorme, all of whom played third base in the past. If the Mets do nothing else in the offseason they do have some options come Opening Day, albeit flawed ones. McNeil is probably more suited to second base at this point, Davis’s defense still has not improved, and while Guillorme’s glove is elite he still has not proven he can hit consistently at a major league level. Escobar is a fine signing and should serve the in the utility role Villar filled last season.
But there is a proven third baseman currently on the market, and that of course is Kris Bryant. The Rockies were looking to the Mets to be a trade partner for Nolan Arenado last season, and the Mets cannot afford to let another opportunity pass them by. After Carlos Correa, Bryant will be one of the top free agents on the market and he could solve their need at third base, which hasn’t had a solution ever since David Wright vacated the position.
After a down year in 2020, Bryant saw a resurgence in 2021 with two different teams. He finished the year batting .265/.353/.481 with 25 home runs and 73 RBIs. He was an All-Star for the fourth time and appeared in the postseason with the Giants where in five games he hit .471/.500/.647. All told he finished the year fifth in fWAR at third base behind Manny Machado, Austin Riley, Nolan Arenado, and Justin Turner. Bryant is a career .278/.376/.504 hitter with most of those numbers coming from his time with the Cubs. Bryant just turned 30 on January 4 so he could potentially have a few more productive years ahead of him.
Now, there is one name that I have not mentioned yet: Brett Baty. Baty had an incredible 2021 season in the minors and is one of the Mets’ top prospects in the system. In his first pro season he broke out in a big way batting .292/.382/.473 with 12 home runs between High-A and Double-A. He continued to impress in the Arizona Fall League where he hit .292/.373/.405 in 25 games. While Baty certainly looks like a promising prospect he is probably a long shot to make the 2022 roster.
The 2022 season will be a crucial one for this organization. Jacob deGrom has an opt-out in his contract after this year, so this could potentially be the only year deGrom and Max Scherzer will be manning the front of the rotation together. The Mets will need to decide whether to go all in with Bryant or hope Baty is the long term solution at third base and wait another season. What will give this organization the best chance at the ever elusive World Series championship? deGrom, Scherzer, and Bryant in 2022 or in 2023, 38-year-old Max Scherzer and Brett Baty as a rookie who is no guarantee to adjust to the big leagues right away?
Bryant again does give them flexibility. J.D. Davis would get pushed into a bench role where he excelled as a pinch-hitter last season even with his wrist injuries. The team will also have the option to trade Jeff McNeil who had a down season in addition to ignoring his manager and getting into a fight with their star player. Brandon Nimmo is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and recently changed his agent to Scott Boras, so the odds of him signing an extension with the Mets during the season have gone down significantly. Bryant could then easily shift into the outfield to replace Nimmo, so the signing of Bryant doesn’t even necessarily mean that Baty will be blocked at third. He could still very well be their future third baseman come 2023.
With all of the moves the Mets have already made this offseason, they have set themselves up nicely to compete in 2022. Things could obviously change given what the new collective bargaining agreement looks like and whether or not the National League adopts the DH, but the finishing touch could be adding a star player at a position they have long struggled to fill. One who just so happened to help lead another beleaguered franchise to a long awaited for World Series victory.