Last off-season, the Mets explored a number of options at second base before deciding to sign Todd Frazier and move Asdrubal Cabrera to the keystone. Seemingly every second baseman not named Jose Altuve was available in trade last winter and the Mets reportedly had discussions about acquiring such players as Jason Kipnis, Starlin Castro, Cesar Hernandez, Josh Harrison and Brian Dozier. Our front office opted to go with Cabrera rather than give up assets (reportedly, Brandon Nimmo) for a veteran second baseman. So, how did that turn out?
Prior to being traded to the Phillies, Cabrera was having a strong offensive season, providing clutch hits and club house leadership, though his range in the field left something to be desired. Once the accepted that their playoff chances were slim-to-none, the Mets traded Cabrera for a promising minor league arm and eventually called up Jeff McNeil from AAA Las Vegas, where the lefty second baseman was tearing the cover off the ball. Since his arrival in Queens, McNeil has been a hitting machine, slugging .335/391/.486. His defense has also been better than advertised as he’s made some highlight reel plays in the field. He brings better than average speed on the bases and an infectious hustle as well. Putting him at the top of the lineup with Nimmo or Amed Rosario has provided the team with a late season spark and it appears he’s earned the position for next year.
Had we pulled the trigger on the rumored Nimmo for Harrison or Kipnis trade, the top of our lineup would look a lot different. Kipnis, who has been hot of late, got off to a terrible start this season and has seen his numbers decline for several seasons. Unless he can continue his hot streak, he’ll see his OPS decline for the fourth straight season. Harrison is experiencing a similar decline and this season is slashing just .251/.294/.365. Castro is having a pretty typical year for himself at .281/.332/.406 but he no longer steals bases and his home runs are down for the third consecutive season. You know who else can say that too? Brian Dozier. Traded from the Twins to the Dodgers mid-season, the former 40-home run threat has just 20 this season to go with a .218 batting average.
At first glance, it would seem Hernandez is the best of the bunch. His third straight year of .350 plus OBP to go with 19 SBs makes him a decent lead-off candidate. However, his batting average is 40 points lower than the previous two seasons and his defense has been less than stellar. Among second baseman he is 13th in UZR. Among the five potential trade candidates, only Kipnis appears in the top 10.
Combined, what we’ve gotten out of first-half Cabrera and second-half McNeil has been superior to any of these players, plus we found our second baseman of the future. Sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make.