One of the big questions for the 2023 Mets is how to divvy up playing time, especially for position players. Last year, unlike the pitchers, the hitters were mostly healthy. We certainly hope for the hitters, that’s the case once again. But if the starting position players remain healthy, how do you find playing time for the youngsters who are allegedly the future of the team?

It seemed like there was some playing time available for youngsters with the DH slot, with the team looking for a righty bat to platoon with Daniel Vogelbach. But those may now go to 35-year-old Tommy Pham, instead. Pham seems to be the team’s fourth outfielder and righty DH. But, in a perfect world, how many PAs would you want Pham to get?

Last year, DHs for the Mets got 673 PA, wile the team’s LFers got 675 and RFers got 701.

We can estimate that Vogelbach will get about two-thirds of the PA at DH, leaving roughly 225 PA for the rightly DH. Mark Canha got 473 PA when he played LF, leaving 202 PA. Starling Marte got 502 PA when he played RF, leaving 199 PA. Do you want Pham getting anywhere close to 626 PA for the Mets in 2023? He had an 87 OPS+ last year, not too far off from what Tyler Naquin (80 OPS+) gave the club last year; a mark that left the team convinced they needed an upgrade.

The Mets could have looked to use Mark Vientos as their righty DH. He wouldn’t have been in line for the OF playing time that Pham will get but he could have gotten some extra playing time as the backup corner infielder. Pete Alonso got 570 of the 695 PA at 1B, while Eduardo Escobar claimed 515 of the 651 PA at 3B. The available playing time wouldn’t be that great for Vientos, as Alonso acted as the DH in many of the games he didn’t play at 1B. But let’s give Vientos a potential 75 PA as the backup 1B/3B.

Would 277 PA as DH/1B/3B be enough playing time to make it worthwhile to carry Vientos in the majors, as opposed to playing him every day at Triple-A? The thing to keep in mind is that unlike Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty, Vientos has significant playing time at Triple-A under his belt already, as he amassed 427 PA last year in Syracuse.

This season may be the best shot for Vientos to carve out playing time as a Met. Baty and Ronny Mauricio will be in Triple-A in 2023 and they are more well-rounded players than Vientos. They figure to leap frog Vientos in the pecking order by next season, if not earlier than that.

Knowing this, did the Mets have any obligation to giving Vientos a legitimate shot at playing time this year? Clearly, they didn’t feel that way, given the Pham signing.

One last note on Vientos. If the Mets had opted to give him first crack at righty DH, they could have found extra playing time for him. Without Pham, Jeff McNeil would have essentially been the first choice to be the fourth outfielder. The Mets could have essentially run a platoon in those situations with McNeil playing the outfield. Luis Guillorme could play 2B versus the RHP while Vientos could have played 3B, with Eduardo Escobar moving to 2B when a LHP was on the mound.

My preferred option was for Alvarez to be the righty DH, while also getting playing time at catcher. Last year, Mets catchers had 583 PA, with Tomas Nido getting 310 PA and James McCann getting 184. Mets catchers didn’t get as many PA as other positions because of two reasons. First, they almost always hit eighth or ninth in the lineup. Secondly, while it’s not readily available, it’s likely that a good number of the club’s 98 PA as a pinch-hitter came when they batted for the catcher.

It’s not too difficult to imagine Alvarez getting 200 PA as the DH and another 175 or so as a catcher. And that’s without him taking over as the starting backstop. There’s certainly room for him to get even more playing time than 375 PA.

At the end of the day, do you want 35-year-old Pham getting 575 or more PA or Alvarez getting 375 or more PA? Pham would be lucky to break a 90 OPS+ while it would be a disappointment if Alvarez didn’t put up a triple-digit mark, with the upside to contribute a lot more. Marcel forecasts a .685 OPS for Pham and a .727 mark for Alvarez.

Everyone and their brother seems to fret – the horror, the horror! – about Alvarez’ defense. Is he better off in the majors under the tutelage of Omar Narvaez, Nido and catching instructor Glenn Sherlock or in the minors getting pointers and instructions from … someone? Is there not the possibility that playing every day in Syracuse he develops less than glorious fundamentals?

No one reading this has any clue how good or bad Alvarez’ defense really is. Additionally, we have no clue if his defense would develop better playing every day at Triple-A or by learning by watching two pretty good MLB catchers and also getting daily instruction from Sherlock. We do have a clue about his bat – it’s pretty good. If both Alvarez and Pham got 200 PA in the majors, few – if any – would expect Pham to be the better hitter in 2023.

One of the ideas you hear mentioned is that the Mets are a win-now team and can’t afford growing pains with untested rookies. Of course, this assumes that the veterans you use in their place are, you know, actually good. Three years ago, adding Pham would have looked like a good move. Here in 2023 it simply doesn’t look that way.

Back in 2015, the Mets acquired two veterans from the Braves. Kelly Johnson came over with a 116 OPS+ and Juan Uribe had a 125 mark. It’s one thing if you’re choosing productive veterans like these two over unproven rookies. If the Mets had gotten the 32-year-old Wil Myers (108 OPS+) or the 30-year-old Jurickson Profar (111 OPS+) to fill the righty DH/reserve OF instead of the 35-year-old Pham (87 OPS+) it wouldn’t be so disappointing.

But they didn’t. So, now we’re rooting for a dead-cat bounce and then hoping the club recognizes the brief hot streak for what it really is, rather than thinking the veteran has found the fountain of youth. All so we can block homegrown guys. It’s one way to run a club but it certainly isn’t my preferred way.

16 comments on “Divvying up playing time for potential righty DH candidates

  • Paulc

    I’m hoping Eppler signed Pham solely as a 4th OF and bench bat. I prefer to see Alvarez as the full-time DH against LHP and Catcher with RHP on the mound. If he can put up a 125 OPS+ to replace the Nido/McCann 65 OPS+ 0.2 bWAR last year, then his bat will more than compensate for whatever defensive liabilities he brings.

    • Brian Joura

      I’d love it if this is the way things worked out.

  • T.J.

    All solid points Brian, but I think we can all agree that if Pham gets 575 PA there is a 99% chance that 2023 will be a disappointment. While the Pham signing is uninspiring, I see it as more of a commitment to allowing the kids a chance to win bigger roles on the big league team. Roles big enough to help the 2023 team while not stunting their development long term. That’s tricky, the borderline is debatable, and there are multiple factors that will arise and impact decisions. Signing Profar, Myers, or closing the Correa deal would likely have diminished the 2023 roles for the prospects.

    I can’t see how another 2-3 months in AAA will hurt Baty, Alvarez, and even Vientos. If they dominate they’ll be in Dlushing soon enough. And I can’t see how 2-3 months of a declining veteran 4th OF/PH will be that costly for the 2023 Mets. The only complaint that can arise is if Pham and/or Nido is playing often and poorly while either Alvarez but more specifically Alvarez are dominating. And, I can’t see how Eppler would allow that to go on for an extended period of time.

    • Brian Joura

      This falls directly to the issue Name and I were discussing just a few days ago – the Braves cut bait on under-performing veterans much quicker than the Mets do. And the Mets are much slower to promote players from the minor leagues. It would be one thing if at the end of May that the Mets would promote rookies to take the place of under-performing vets. But there’s not a lot of history to show that’s what they’ll do.

  • Metsense

    I prefer Alvarez even if it means having three catchers on the active roster. The catching position should be divided up in thirds. Nido plays when a LHP on the mound and RHP is on the mound split Alvarez and Narvaez. Then always used Alvarez as the RHB DH. Thus Alvarez would 227 PA as catcher plus 225 PA as DH. That is 502 PA instead of 350 PA.
    If they don’t promote Alvarez then at least promote Vientos to be the RHB DH. They should learn from the Cano debacle last year.
    In hindsight the best play would have been signing Wilson Contreras (5/87.5) and not sign Pham (1/6) and Narvaez (1/8), then promote Alvarez for the RHB DH and back up catcher. Used McNeil for fourth outfielder and Guillorme and 2B.
    Nice article and plan, Brian and you initially wanted Contreras.

  • TexasGusCC

    My impression is the multitude of injuries has spooked Eppler and he is accumulating players but I don’t understand why they are paying $6MM for a fourth outfielder. If you insist on keeping Ruf, why isn’t he your fourth outfielder? If he sucks, cut him already. Seems like the Mets want it like this and like that. Now, we don’t know the variables as to what different free agents are requesting, but if Cahna is your backup center fielder, there isn’t a need to spend decent money on a subpar player – unless you disagree with his recent production.

    Not only is the Mets roster somewhat too patched together for a division winning team, but, resources (money and prospects) have been wasted in several transactions.

  • NYM6986

    Seems the additional potential impact bat in the lineup for 2023 rests with Alvarez, who has proven he can rake. Even after a slow start in AAA he found his stroke. Lindor had a great season but only 26 HR and he was second on the team in HR. We need a HR bat behind Pete to protect him. If it’s McNeil, sure he’ll hit around .300 but there’s not much to prevent pitching around Pete and getting him to chase out of frustration. Alvarez has legit 30HR potential in his first year and could catch 50 games. Vogelbach will do fine from the left side of the DH especially with the extreme shift removed. Can’t believe we are still holding on to Ruff but imagine with what they traded for him that giving him his release would sting. He could likely go in SP after teams see that he can still hit. As for Vientos, I see him being moved in SP since they really have no place to play him in the field, and lots of teams could use a potential 25 HR bat with more upside. Biggest worry is returning basically the same team on the field but no additions to hit that game winning HR in late innings like many other teams come. Near the end of the game or in extra innings, the team generally lacks players to hit one out instead relying on small ball to get the win.

    • TexasGusCC

      Do you trust Eppler to make a trade? What trade has he actually won?

      • Brian Joura

        How many trades has he made?

        I’d say he won the trade for Chris Bassitt, he won the trade for Daniel Vogelbach and he won the trade for James McCann. The Ruf one is the one he lost. Unless I’m blanking on a deal – certainly a possibility – I’d say his trade record looks pretty good.

        Edit: I’d say the Givens deal was a slight win and the Naquin deal was a loss.

        • TexasGusCC

          I disagree on the Vogelbach trade and McCann. Maybe he did on Bassitt, but Vogey is a fragmented player that only was offered $1.5MM by a team in today’s baseball. That’s terrible! Holderman has promise, but not a most valued commodity- I get it. As for McCann, he was much better in the peripherals than the counting stats. His hard hit, his defense, all that was worth more than a prospect in low A.

          • Brian Joura

            Most sane people would trade a 26-year-old reliever riding the shuttle between Syracuse and Queens for a guy who puts up a 139 OPS+ and call that a win.

  • JamesTOB

    My basic philosophy is that you should play the established (and expensive) players until they show that they are replaceable by up-and-coming youngsters. It’s a matter of respect more than money. Escobar has been a very good 3B historically. While he struggled for most of 2022, he did come back very strong for the last 6 weeks or so of the season. He deserves a 2 month window to establish himself as the 3B for 2023. If he flounders or is injured, then bring up Baty.
    Likewise, if he is not traded in SP, I would give Ruf a 2 month window to show that he can be an effective RH DH. It can be very difficult to be traded later in a season, esp. to NY and flourish. So I’d give him the opportunity to start the season with the Mets and see what he can do. (I see Vogelbach’s situation in the same light.) If Ruf flounders or is injured, then trade or cut him and bring up Vientos, who really has no other viable position.
    The Alvarez situation is a bit more complicated. Having a catcher who makes pitchers comfortable is very important. If that is the case with Alvarez (and Schezer spoke positively of him when he was rehabbing at AAA, though he may have been being politely encouraging) then he ought to start with Narvaez backing him up and Nido sent to AAA or traded. Otherwise, he should be in AAA getting lots of at-bats and lots of time behind the plate. I don’t think it does him as much good to be hitting and catching part-time.
    Lastly, I’d have Mauricio in AAA learning to be an outfielder. That power bat would look very nice in LF in 2024 when Canha’s contract will be over.
    I appreciate the work that has gone into the other proposals, but I found them to have too many moving parts. I think simplicity is the way to go.

    • deegrove84

      No catcher plays behind the plate every day. Having Alvarez split time with Narvaez and be utilized as DH isn’t madness or terribly complicated.

      The Mets track what pitching matchups are upcoming and try to time Alvarez’s days off from catching to coincide with lefty starters.

      For AAA, here’s where I have players assigned:

      1B: Mark Vientos
      2B: Luke Ritter
      3B: Brett Baty
      SS: Jose Peraza/Jonathan Arauz
      LF: Nick Plummer (he may not remain on the team)
      CF: Khalil Lee
      RF: Ronny Mauricio
      DH: Carlos Cortes

    • BobP

      I don’t really agree that more established guys should get the opportunity based on respect. It should be based on whether you think think they have something left in the tank and will produce if given the chance. Giving Ruf a two month opportunity seems crazy to me. He was terrible in his time with the Mets, so why does he deserve another shot? If you think it was an anomaly and he will produce, that’s one thing, but he hasn’t earned any respect. Similar, but to a lesser extent with Escobar. Remember that he sucked for almost the entire season, and made his numbers look respectable with a hot last month. I think he should be fighting for a starting spot, like any young player.

      • JamesTOB

        How would you know if Ruf had “anything left in the tank” unless he plays? As for respect, players around the league watch how teams treat their players, which could well impact which free agents are willing to go to a team.

  • deegrove84

    Shocking nobody, I want Alvarez in the majors and getting as many at-bats as he can. If Tommy Pham gets some looks at DH, that doesn’t devastate me but ultimately one of the easiest offensive upgrades the Mets could make between 2022 and 2023 was to not have James McCann and Tomas Nido taking up regular at bats. I like the Mets carrying three catchers and jettisoning Darin Ruf from the 40-man roster.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 100 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here