As a Mets fan, this 2018-2019 offseason has been very strange.
Starting with former super-agent Brodie Van Wagenen becoming General Manager on October 29, 2018, there have been a plethora of maneuvers made to bolster Van Wagenen’s “Win Now” mantra for the 2019 season.
Beginning with second baseman Robinson Cano and young elite closer Edwin Diaz coming over from the Seattle Mariners for Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, and three prospects on December 3, the Mets have been extremely active in making transactions, to positive and negative acclaim.
Bringing back former closer Jeurys Familia on December 14 and signing catcher Wilson Ramos on December 17 was, in this writer’s opinion, a strong move. Letting Wilmer Flores be non-tendered and giving Travis d’Arnaud a new deal for 2019 has been a mind-numbing one.
But when the Mets announced the signing of Jed Lowrie to a 2 year, $20 million contract, I groaned. Not because of the player, as I really dig Lowrie and what he’s done over his career, but because the Mets don’t really NEED him. With the infield being overloaded already, the Lowrie signing gives the Mets quite the quandary to work through.
I, a die-hard Mets fan and man with zero experience in any aspect running a major-market baseball operation, have one solution to make regarding the issue:
The Mets need to trade Jeff McNeil, and it makes me sick to say it.
Bringing up the 26 year old second baseman on July 24, 2018 before a game against the San Diego Padres, McNeil absolutely shined. During the second half of the 2018 season, McNeil batted .329 in 248 plate appearances with three home runs, 19 RBIs, eleven doubles, three triples, and an .852 OPS.
In terms of mere arrival alone, McNeil flew under the radar, dealing with a multitude of injuries throughout his minor-league career, before having an outstanding rebound season in Triple A. A 26 year old rookie, #68 really boosted the Mets after a dismal June, giving them a 37-26 record in games where he made an appearance (31-22 in games he started). He had 19 multi-games, made some stellar defensive plays in the infield, and maximised his moments whenever he had a chance to.
I jokingly, yet seriously, referred to McNeil as “Nu-Murphy” to my friends, in dedication to former Met (and 2015 playoff legend) Daniel Murphy. Murphy’s biggest attribute as a hitter was making contact and finding a way to get on base. Basically, Murphy was a difficult out. Also known as being a spray-hitter, McNeil always found a way to get on base. In the days of Sabermetrics, McNeil was definitely a throwback.
After the 2018 season ended, I was stoked. I, after years of wondering of who the Mets second baseman of the future would be after trading away Dilson Herrera in 2016 (coincidentally, he’s back), I finally had one name on my mind: McNEIL.
Now with the trade for Cano, the signing of Lowrie, and the impending arrival of prized first baseman Peter Alonzo coming up from Triple-A, combined with Amed Rosario, Todd Frazier, and McNeil still there, as well as Dominic Smith and the returning TJ Rivera looking for a spot, there’s only one real solution to this whole “overloaded infield” situation:
TRADE McNEIL. Ugh, I hate even writing it.
That is most likely the best for everyone involved. Even though many in social media are saying “you can never have too much depth”, I don’t buy that situation here for McNeil. Here’s why in one word: DEVELOPMENT.
McNeil, especially defensively, was growing into his own as a Major League second baseman. Now with Cano, an absolute monster defensively, permanently patrolling that side of the infield for the foreseeable future, McNeil is being groomed to becoming a “super-sub” off the bench for Mickey Callaway. For a player the caliber of McNeil, in my opinion, he needs to play every day at the same position and continue to grow as an performer. Shuffling McNeil to multiple positions, similar to Kevin Mitchell in 1986, might be detrimental to his development as a Major League player.
If you want to take a trip on the DeLorean with me, allow me to take you back to the end of 2013 season. Justin Turner, a man used primarily as a utility guy for several seasons, was non-tendered a contract for the 2014 season. As much as Met fans hated the move, as well as then-skipper Terry Collins, Sandy Alderson made the call, due to the fact that the Mets, even during these modern “dark ages”, didn’t have room for the fiery redhead. However, once signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers and given a chance by then-manager Don Mattingly to play every day at third base, Turner has become a superstar in Dodger blue, and the Mets ultimately saw it coming.
The mere fear of not finding a more prominent role for McNeil will, more likely than not, allow this similar situation to happen, and it stinks. It will be deja vu all over again.
But for an athlete in the modern era who is looking for an opportunity to make a boatload of cash on the Major League level, you need to play EVERY DAY. To me, Jeff McNeil is one of those cases. And as much as I don’t want to see it happen, it might be the only thing to do to keep his development going as a MLB player strong, because there is money in McNeil, just like there was in Justin Turner.
TRADE McNEIL, even if it disgusts me.