Here’s the dilemma that Mickey Callaway finds himself in down the stretch in his first year as an MLB manager: How do you proceed when wins don’t matter? The good news is that it’s really not that difficult. You play the guys who need playing time. You play the guys that you need to find something out about to define their role in 2019 and 2020. That second year is important and shouldn’t be swept under the rug.
My belief is that Devin Mesoraco is a better catcher than Kevin Plawecki. But what are you going to learn about Mesoraco that you don’t know? He’s proven himself durable in his time with the Mets and it’s not like he’s not gotten whacked multiple times while he’s been behind the plate. The pitchers seem to react positively to his presence. And he gives you a long ball threat when he’s batting. If you’re willing to pay the freight, Mesoraco could be your starter the next couple of years. But what’s Plawecki? He’s always had his supporters but when given a chance to start regularly in the majors, the results have not been good. His solid stretch at the end of 2017 came when he was in a time share with Travis d’Arnaud. Can Plawecki play four out of every five days and be good? Let’s find out.
Wilmer Flores has received a chance to play every day since coming off the disabled list. The jury has been out if he could survive without getting significant time off and from an offensive perspective, Flores has responded with a very good stretch. He’s slashing .295/.344/.497 since mid-June. Those numbers would play at first base. But he’s still a train wreck in the field. What’s more of a benefit to the Mets – seeing if more reps at first will make Flores better or if seeing someone else play the position and getting time? If wins were the only thing that mattered, you’d pick Flores for his bat and keep your fingers crossed with his glove and pinch run for him whenever the situation dictated it. But Callaway should be giving that playing time to others.
Jeff McNeil is the one guy that the Mets are committed to playing who they absolutely should at this point. No one has any hopes about McNeil being a good defender. He is what he is. The hope is that his bat is good enough and he’s getting a chance to prove that it is. But why McNeil and not Luis Guillorme? Earlier in the season, Guillorme got sporadic playing time. He played in 29 of 41 games, making 13 starts, and hit lousy while mostly playing out of position at third base. He should get some time at 2B or SS now when these games are meaningless. He came in with a good defensive reputation but didn’t exactly wow us at third base. If the Mets are serious about giving Amed Rosario consistent time off, then Guillorme should make those starts at short over Jose Reyes. And he should get some time at second base, with McNeil sliding over to play first base.
Under no circumstance should Jose Bautista make another start this year. Since July 1, he has a .555 OPS in 128 PA – yet the 37 year old starts virtually every day. It was an odd experiment and one that worked better than anyone should have expected for six weeks. But reality has come knocking and it’s best to heed the call. Meanwhile, Austin Jackson has been terrific at the plate and the Mets should be playing him over Bautista to get the benefit of his hot six weeks. In the tiny sample size of 77.2 innings, UZR likes what Jackson has given the Mets, while DRS thinks he’s not been good. At least with Jackson, the Mets can play their two best young hitters in the corners. Both can play center but they’re better defensively in left and right. And at age 31, Jackson is significantly younger than Bautista.
And if there aren’t enough moving pieces already, news hit yesterday that David Wright is going to start rehab games. Hats off to Wright for putting himself through all of this in an effort to get back on the field again. But when we last saw him play, his arm was nothing special. Can he make a throw from a regular arm slot and put any kind of zip on it? If not, he shouldn’t play third base if he’s able to make it back to the majors. If you want to do a ceremonial game where Wright plays third and Reyes plays short, fine. Announce the date ahead of time and sell some tickets. But do it once and be done with it.
Plus the team should look for playing time for Peter Alonso and Dominic Smith down the stretch. Alonso recovered from a rough patch in Triple-A to once again be an offensive force. In his last 10 games, Alonso has a 1.361 OPS, with six of those games being in the more pitcher-friendly PCL stadiums in Iowa and Omaha. It’s been a forgettable year for Smith but what’s best for him in the long run? Giving him a shot for face time in the majors or giving him tough love and say – too bad, you didn’t excel so your season is over. Unless you want to play in Venezuela. My belief is there’s more to be gained by having him in the majors before the year is out.
Corey Oswalt has pitched well enough to deserve a spot over Jason Vargas. With a doubleheader coming up, it’s okay to give Vargas another shot. But when Matz returns, it should be Vargas going to the pen. His contract is bad enough, don’t keep playing him to make the situation even worse. Let him try to work out his issues in the bullpen. Also, there’s no reason to give higher leverage innings to Jacob Rhame. Until he develops some type of offspeed pitch, he’s going to continue to put up lousy results. Let him give up runs in games where we’re already down by five runs. Don’t pitch him in extra innings when there are other options remaining.
There you have it. Instead, my guess is we’ll see lots of Mesoraco and Flores and Bautista, while Reyes will get more playing time than he should, too. And it won’t be a surprise to see a lame Wright get more starts than he deserves at the hot corner. The kicker will be if they don’t promote Alonso and Smith at all, saying there’s no reason to crowd the clubhouse and besides, the club absolutely needs to see Gerson Bautista again this year…