When the Mets were projected to win well over 90 games before the 2023 season started, Jeff McNeil was one of several players who was looking really good. Having hit .326/.382/.454 with a 141 wRC+ and a National League batting title just last year, the second baseman/corner outfielder seemed to have put his down year in 2021 firmly in the rear view mirror.
Following that excellent season, the Mets signed McNeil to a four-year contract that covered his final two arbitration-eligible years and what would have been his first two years of free agency. And he actually got off to a hot start this year, hitting .298/.416/.415 with a 139 wRC+ in March and April. But the following three months went very poorly. From the beginning of May through the end of July, he hit just .237/.297/.300 with a 70 wRC+ in 312 plate appearances. At the end of that stretch, he had just an 88 wRC+ on the season.
The Mets’ overall failure this season can’t be pinned on any one player, but the way McNeil struggled over such a large chunk of the season contributed to the team’s poor record and its completely justifiable decision to sell at the trade deadline.
From the beginning of August through the end of the season, though, McNeil looked like himself at the plate again. He hit .303/.342/.466 with a 123 wRC+ in 223 plate appearances over that stretch, and that was good enough to leave him with a 100 wRC+ at the end of the season. Unfortunately, his season ended a few days early because of a torn UCL in his left elbow. At the time of the injury, the 31-year-old was said to be looking to avoid surgery, and given that it’s his non-throwing elbow, maybe it’s okay to be slightly optimistic about what his recovery will look like.
Assuming McNeil is ready to go on Opening Day next year, he’ll still be a bit of a question mark. It’s obvious that he’s capable of being a high-average hitter with some power, but over the last three seasons, it’s his excellent 2022 campaign that looks like the outlier right now. Since the beginning of the 2021 season, McNeil has a cumulative 112 wRC+. Over his first three major league seasons—one of which was of course the pandemic-shortened 2020 season—he had a 140 wRC+.
Given his recent body of work, it would be surprising to see McNeil moved elsewhere over the offseason, even with the Mets having a new head of baseball operations. Other teams would likely view the remainder of his contract as too risky, and with Steve Cohen funding payroll, the Mets can certainly afford to see what kind of hitter McNeil will be moving forward.