The loss of Luis Guillorme to a groin injury has placed the Mets in a somewhat precarious position. They’ve already been fielding one near-automatic out in their lineup, as James McCann (52 wRC+) and Tomás Nido (58 wRC+) have both been dreadful offensively out of the catcher spot. Having one black hole in the lineup is not ideal; having two is obviously a whole other level of concerning. While Guillorme is hardly a world-beater offensively, his production against right-handed pitchers is pretty respectable, and even when he’s not providing much value with the bat, his sterling defense generally makes up for it.
Guillorme has been the predominant option at third base against right-handed starting pitchers in recent times. With him on the shelf for the next 4-6 weeks, the Mets will turn to Eduardo Escobar, who was originally supposed to play every day at third anyway. The reason he has seen less and less playing time is because while his production as a right-handed hitter has been solid (121 wRC+), his numbers as a left-handed hitter (69 wRC+) have been anything but. While Escobar still has a solid role to fill on this team as an option against lefty pitchers, the idea of him starting against right-handed starters for the next month—and seeing him and the McCann/Nido combo at the bottom of the lineup—does not fill one with a great deal of confidence.
But that is what the Mets are, at the moment, determined to do—despite the fact that there is another option sitting right there in Syracuse. I am not referring to Mark Vientos here, who is generally seen as a designated hitter more than anything else, and who is a safer bet to produce against left-handed pitchers, which Escobar is already capable of doing. I am instead referring to Brett Baty, the number two prospect in the Mets’ farm system and a left-hitting third baseman who would seem an ideal fit for the hole that currently exists in the lineup. The team has insisted that they are not currently going to consider Baty as an option to replace Guillorme. In this, they are making a grave mistake based on a faulty philosophy that demands coddling prospects regardless of what the needs in the majors may be.
The Mets have been in a somewhat similar situation with Francisco Álvarez, as they have refused calls to promote him to the majors in light of the poor offensive contributions of McCann and Nido. While we can debate whether or not Álvarez is ready to handle major league pitching, the other factor that the Mets cite in justifying their patience with him is the difficulty of asking a young catcher to come in and handle a major league pitching staff on a contending team midway through the season. Agree or disagree, none of us are experienced enough to have an actual sense of the challenges this would entail and whether Álvarez would be capable of overcoming them. So there is at least an understandable logic to their decision.
With Baty, the logic is less clear. Most scouts seem to believe that he has room to improve defensively (though he is not nearly the kind of liability that Vientos is), but that is considerably less important for a third baseman than it is for a catcher. Baty’s bat, on the other hand, is much less of a concern. The 22-year-old has had a very strong season in the minors, putting up a .312/.406/.544 batting line, 19 homers, and a 159 wRC+ in 89 games in Double-A before being promoted to Syracuse recently (and he arguably should have been promoted much sooner than he was). He has continued to hit there (138 wRC+ in his first six games, although he has yet to demonstrate much power at the level in the early going), and the Mets feel strongly enough about his potential to have essentially made him unavailable in any trade discussions that took place at the deadline.
And yet, the Mets are not considering him for a major league role at this time. And on the one hand, it’s understandable that they would like to see Baty get more playing time in Triple-A and fully show that he is too good for the level before making the jump to the majors. Had Guillorme stayed healthy or had Escobar demonstrated even a little bit more prowess against righty pitchers, it would have been easier to accommodate this wish. But given both the promise that Baty has already demonstrated at a higher minor league level and the desperate need for a better offensive option at third, the team cannot afford to be dogmatic in its philosophy for how to develop prospects. The major league team is a legitimate postseason contender, but they have a major hole right now, and Baty can potentially help to fill it.
If you want to see an example of a team who is willing to be aggressive in promoting talented prospects when the need arises, look no further than the Braves. Earlier in the season, when the team was struggling and they had a hole in their outfield, they turned to 21-year-old Michael Harris II, despite the fact that he only had 196 plate appearances of experience at Double-A. A few months later, and Harris has more than justified the team’s confidence in him, as he has put up a 130 wRC+ and 2.7 fWAR thus far in his major league career, and is a leading candidate for National League Rookie of the Year. Just recently, the team has adopted the same approach with Vaughn Grissom, another 21-year-old who had even less Double-A experience (just 98 plate appearances) than Harris. He too has rewarded the Braves with solid play thus far, helping to keep them in the hunt for the division. Where would Atlanta be right now if they had instead demanded that each player see extended Triple-A time before calling them up to the majors?
Hell, we can find an example in the not-too-distant past when the Mets made the exact same call. In 2015, Michael Conforto was having an excellent season in the minors, but had yet to advance past Double-A. The front office could have decided to insist on seeing him in Triple-A before calling him up to the majors, but Michael Cuddyer was not providing the team with enough production in the outfield, so they decided to promote Conforto to help with the playoff run. He went on to put up a 133 wRC+ and 1.9 fWAR in those final two months and helped lead the Mets to a pennant. As was the case with Harris and Grissom, Baty has more high-level minor league experience than Conforto did.
In both this example and the Atlanta cases, we see contending teams responding to the needs of the major league roster and placing faith in the players that they believe in. And indeed, if the Mets didn’t believe in Brett Baty’s talent, then they wouldn’t have been so reluctant to include him in just about every trade discussion that comes their way.
So what exactly is the worst-case scenario here? What potential outcome are the Mets so afraid of as to make the idea of promoting Baty untenable to them? Sure, it’s possible that he might genuinely not be ready for the majors, and he might struggle if promoted. But if that happened, then the offensive hole that already exists at third base would simply continue to exist, so that does not seem to be much of an actual risk. Rather, the Mets might argue, the concern is about Baty’s long-term future—that if they promote him too soon, his development may suffer in ways that prevent him from reaching the potential that they believe he has. But let’s be honest here: if playing and struggling for a month or so had such a detrimental effect on Baty’s abilities as feared in this scenario, then it is far more likely that he was simply never going to be as good as the team hoped he would be anyway. If he is as good as they believe, then he will either be ready to show that now or he will rebound from some early struggles, get some continued development, and eventually return to the majors and show what he is capable of.
The only other minor concern that the team has noted has been the need for a player who can fill in at the other infield spots, which Guillorme was capable of doing and which Baty is likely not. The team needed to call up Deven Marrero instead of Baty, they will argue, so that they will be protected in case Francisco Lindor goes down to injury or some other emergency situation arises which requires them to need another middle infielder. I suppose there is some logic to this—but do you want to know something that is almost just as terrifying as the idea of Francisco Lindor going down to injury? The idea of Deven Marrero—the same Deven Marrero who has a 39 career wRC+ and an 86 wRC+ in Triple-A this year—getting any amount of playing time for the Mets this year. Sorry, but I’m willing to put up with the risk of having to put Escobar or Jeff McNeil at shortstop for a few innings in an emergency situation to avoid this horrifying prospect—and to give the Mets at least a fighting chance of getting some offense out of third base over the next month.
Look, this is predominantly about the Mets’ fight for a division title. But it’s also about the general working philosophy that this front office is demonstrating where the needs of minor league development seemingly outweigh the needs of the major league team. We saw that same philosophy at play at the deadline where Billy Eppler was celebrating holding onto the team’s top 19 prospects instead of bemoaning the fact that the major league squad neglected to fill major holes. You don’t want a front office to be completely indifferent to the long-term needs of the franchise, but you don’t want them to go too far in the other direction, either, where they hug their prospects so tightly at the detriment to the needs of the major league roster. There needs to be an understanding that the Mets are in a position that they have rarely been in throughout their history, and while the hope is that the team will be able to contend for many years to come, you need to capitalize on the opportunity that is available before you right now. It’s too late for the Mets to rectify their deadline mistakes, but it’s not too late for them to do the necessary thing and call up Baty to give them every possible chance of nailing down the NL East title.