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Grading the Mets’ Joey Wendle signing

Not great, not terrible.

New York Mets v Miami Marlins Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images

The Mets’ first offensive addition of the season wasn’t a particularly inspiring one, as the team inked Joey Wendle to a one-year, $2M deal. The 33-year-old former Marlin will also receive $100K each for 250, 300, 350, 400, and 450 PA.

Wendle is no stranger to changing homes, as he’s been passed around quite a bit already in his professional career. Originally drafted by Cleveland in the 6th round of the 2012 draft, he was later traded to Oakland for Brandon Moss. Five years later, Oakland shipped him out after he seemingly stalled out in the upper minors, swapping him for Jonah Heim from the Rays (who they’d later trade to the Rangers before he blossomed into one of the better catchers in baseball, oops). In Tampa, Wendle emerged as a strong defender and pesky hitter, posting above-average offense in every season outside of an injury plagued 2019. He took a step back in 2021, however, and the Rays sent him to the Marlins that offseason.

As one might expect, the Rays got the better end of that deal, as Wendle’s offensive performance promptly cratered. His meager power regressed, driven both by declining max exit velocities and worm-burning launch angle tendencies. He struck out less in 2022, but he failed to hold on to those gains in 2023 while continuing to be averse to walks. Sprinkle in some bad luck in the form of a .264 BABIP (though at least part of that is earned) and you get a two year stretch with a .238/.274/.335 batting line, good for a 67 wRC+. His 2023 in particular was a disaster, as he flamed out of Miami with a 47 wRC+ that ranked second-worst—ahead of only Brenton Doyle—among all major league hitters to receive at least 300 PAs.

So why exactly are the Mets rushing out to sign a 33-year-old infielder coming off a -0.8 fWAR season to a guaranteed deal in November? It’s a fair question, but you can at least squint and see some utility here. Wendle is still a solid defender (presuming his poor OAA at 3B last season is an aberration, which seems reasonable given his performance at SS and 2B) capable of playing all over the infield. He’s also logged time in the outfield earlier in his career, though the last time he stepped on the grass was back in 2018. His sprint speed (27.8 ft / sec) isn’t elite but is solidly above average, helping him steal 19 based in 23 tries over the past two seasons.

It’s this last point that I think justifies bringing in Wendle to occupy Luis Guillorme’s role on the bench. Both are punchless hitters with defensive flexiblity, but Wendle’s plus speed will let him function as a pinch runner late in games. Guillorme, by contrast, has well below average speed, something that really limited his utility as a bench piece in recent years. At a similar cost, Wendle is a superior option. Wendle is also regarded as an excellent locker room presence, perhaps someone who can help a rookie manager stabilize a clubhouse that has been at times volatile in recent years.

Those plaudits aside, Wendle’s fit is far from perfect. You’d ideally like a right-handed hitter for this role, someone who can protect Brett Baty from tough lefties while he continues to adapt to major league pitching (something the Mets should surely give him time to do this season), or who can spell Jeff McNeil from time-to-time. You’d also hope to sign someone who projects have a bit more offensive value than Wendle, though it’s difficult to do that without guaranteeing a major league role. As an example, Garrett Hampson is probably a better fit, but his choice to sign with the Royals where he has a guaranteed spot makes sense if the Mets weren’t willing to pay a premium for his services.

On that note, the significant playing time incentives in Wendle’s contract are particularly concerning. Negotiating these into the deal suggests that the Mets brought Wendle in with the promise of at least a potential path to significant major league at-bats. Such an outcome would be an unmitigated disaster, particularly if a rookie manager like Carlos Mendoza leans in to playing a scrappy veteran over younger players who should receive the bulk of the playing time in what should be a transition year for the team.

Ultimately, this is unlikely to be a hugely consequential move one way or the other. $2M veteran bench pieces rarely impact things enough to make or break a season. Nevertheless, this feels like a very weird move to prioritize at this juncture of the offseason, even with the speed and defensive utility Wendle brings to the table. Why not target a player with more upside like Nick Senzel, who signed with the Nats for similar money? Or someone like the aforementioned Hampson? Both signed for dollar amounts equal to Wendle and are arguably worth guaranteeing more playing time (or simply paying more) to secure. The latent concerns around how much Wendle will actually wind up playing given his contract structure make this question even more relevant. Presumably, a player of Wendle’s quality would be available at any point in the offseason.

For the moment, this move earns a C, but there’s real potential for it to turn out worse than that if the right lineup decisions aren’t made throughout the season.