In many boring ways, Danny Mendick is your prototypical utility player. He’s played every position except catcher and first base in his major league career. He’s beloved by old school managers and his teammates in the clubhouse. His career offensive line (.251/.309/.366, 87 wRC+) and defensive metrics (no better than +1 OAA at any position in his career) leave something to be desired. There’s more under the surface here, though, both in terms of the player and the process by which he made his way to the Mets, and he’s in line to play a subtle but important role for the 2023 team.
Intermittently, Mendick has flashed more offensive potential. He raked for a three-week stretch in 2020 while starter Nick Madrigal was hurt, then promptly turned back into a pumpkin when he lost his starting spot again. He began 2021 with a bang, a 167 wRC+ in April, then swung a wet noodle throughout the summer. In 2022, he was again off to a gangbusters start, batting .289/.343/.443 and tying his career high in home runs (3) while the rest of the White Sox roster imploded around him. He couldn’t outrun both his own skill for poor timing and whatever injury hex was placed upon Chicago’s roster last year though; his hot start was derailed by an outfield collision that resulted in a torn ACL.
Maybe there’s some hope that the Mets can catch lightning in a bottle here, that Mendick has made some legitimate strides and just suffered a string of bad luck. Statcast doesn’t agree—his .273 xwOBA was signicantly lower than the .344 wOBA he posted, with a lot of blue exit velocities—and the sample sizes are fairly small. Mendick doesn’t need to be a 20% better than league average hitter to be valuable though, he just needs to get closer to a 90 or 95 wRC+ to be a reserve piece with legitimate value given his flexibility. That’s only a modest improvement over his career 87 mark to date, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Whichever version of Mendick the Mets get, he’s set to fill an important role for the back-end of the roster. While the middle infield depth on the major league side is solid—Franciso Lindor and Jeff McNeil backed up by Luis Guillorme—the minor league picture could kindly be described as bleak. José Peraza, signed on a minor league deal, and Jonathan Araúz, selected in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, would project as the top-2 reserve middle infielders in Mendick’s absence. What limited prospect capital the Mets have in this area is also mostly far from the majors, unless you count Wyatt Young as more than an org guy (he did not feature on our top-25 prospects and was not in serious consideration). Someone will inevitably pull a hamstring or tweak an oblique, and having a legitimately good backup in Mendick waiting in the minors is vital to avoid the sort of slump that can cost you a division title in a close race.
There’s also an outside shot Mendick forces himself onto the roster even without an injury. Billy Eppler has not exactly been effusive in his praise for Darin Ruf this spring training, and it also seems like the Mets want Brett Baty and Francisco Alvarez to begin the season in Triple-A. If Ruf scuffles in spring and Mendick’s knee recovery is a bit ahead of schedule, maybe he winds up stealing that last spot on the bench. You can just imagine Buck Showalter salivating at the thought of having a defensively flexible, light hitting utility guy that he can play too much sitting on the bench, and maybe that’s all it takes. Jokes aside, while the Mets should probably have made a more serious upgrade to this pot on the roster, Mendick is not an absolute disaster as a 4th bench option until Baty or Alvarez are deemed ready.
It’s worth discussing the mechanics of how the Mets brought in Mendick for a minute. By guaranteeing him $1 million—only $400,000 more than the major league minimum, effectively a rounding error—the Mets used their financial leverage to bring Mendick in essentially as a priority NRI. He’d no doubt have had many suitors as a not-too-old, defensively flexible player with passable baseball ability and, more importantly, options and years of team control remaining, but the Mets were able to jump the market and leverage their financial resources in a more subtle way. This is really solid process (and not in the gauche, “we convinced Steve Cohen to spend less money” sort of way).
Ultimately, Mendick is likely to be a foot note to the Mets’ 2023 season, the sort of player you totally blank on when doing a Sporcle quiz in 2033 about who got at bats in September of a World Series run. That doesn’t mean he’s not an important piece in the present however, and the Mets did well to bring him in. Hopefully we’ll see him for only brief moments as he steals an occasional at bat from healthy starters while showing some of the better offense that he’s flashed over the years.