No, that was not a typo. And of course, it is not going to happen, but it should. One problem with poorly constructed teams is the notion of players being stuck in positions that are not suitable for their skills set, a topic that has been covered here, even recently, in an article by Chris Dial. Effects of this are seen immediately as an increase in errors, poor live-time decisions, and surrendered runs. All that leads to the obvious outcome of game losses. Unfortunately, this problem extends to second baseman Jeff McNeil, who has been errantly penciled in as the Mets every-day third baseman.
McNeil has been a fabulous breath of fresh air as part of the exciting freshman- and sophomore-level big leaguers that have rapidly made a considerable difference on the team. The infusion of young talent has given the Mets an air of success, enough so, that many projections put this team at or near the top of the NL East. A week ago, that excitement could not have been more palpable; a week later the team looks like it is drowning. So-so starting pitching, terrible relief pitching, hitters out of sync, and poor defense from out-of-position players are already taking a heavy toll.
One of the players stuck in this defensive quagmire is McNeil. When he was announced early on he would be manning third base, the news was widely received with a lot of enthusiasm, although I thought there was room for this to be tempered. Of course, McNeil has a minor league track record of playing third base, but to call him a third baseman by training would be errant. He’s logged many more innings at second base, his natural position, and one he excelled at after making the jump to Queens. All that accomplishment was set aside after Brodie Van Wagenen traded for Robinson Cano, putting McNeil as odd man out for a defensive position.
Snap to today. McNeil has already shown that major league third base is not a dumping ground for hurt or out-of-position players. The team surely should have learned this lesson after the agony of watching Wilmer Flores “play” third base, or Eric Campbell, or an injured David Wright, or any other experiment dropped there. McNeil already leads the majors in errors with four in seven games, but that number very easily could be seven. Pete Alonso bailed out two quite wayward throws that exposed Alonso to incoming runners, and a generous official scorer in Boston who gave a hit on a grounder McNeil mishandled and then threw poorly right after. Either of his actions should have been enough to charge an error.
Simply put, third base is a lot different than play at second. The time is so much more contracted given the length of the throw, which McNeil is clearly struggling with. Reflex time is shorter given where most people play third base; balls come much faster. Third base also opens the door to having to field bunts and swinging bunts by forcing a charge followed by an off-balance throw. I do not think McNeil is big-league ready to play third base, especially in a season where every game counts 2.7x relative to a full season game.
At 3-7, the team is heading for life support in a hurry. As previously written, the Mets typically start out seasons rather poorly across the first 60 games. Now is the time to fix the McNeil issue quickly. Luis Rojas has shown he can bench Cano for defensive reasons, and has dropped him low in the batting order. It is time to move McNeil back to where he belongs at second base for about four games per week, and platoon him twice a week in the outfield. Cano can platoon at second and DH. Andres Gimenez grades out at 60/80 in the field and 60/80 for arm. He is a “left-side” guy. In moving McNeil to second base, I would put Gimenez at third base and let him take this over, as he is seriously blocked at shortstop with Amed Rosario and Ronny Mauricio. Around-the-horn with Gimenez, Rosario, McNeil, and Alonso has the making for something strong.