As MLB teams take this time to finalize their strategies for free agency, they look at and reflect holes that need to be plugged on their roster. For the Mets, some holes are glaring, like the need for a consistent DH and starting pitching depth. Other roster problems can feel like an existential crisis, such as the hole that has existed at third base on the Mets since the departure of David Wright. Of course, we could not expect any of the successors to do what Wright did as a Met, and it is always impossible to fill the void left by a team’s all-time great. The most productive season by a Mets third baseman since Wright’s departure measured by WAR was Todd Frazier’s 2018, where he produced a 2.5 mark. Since then, it has been a rotating cast that has been struggling to hold down the hot corner.
Last year, the position was ripe for Brett Baty’s taking, and the season ended up going not so well for him. The season was marred by Baty fluctuating between the minors and the majors, never really getting his footing at the major league level. While he is still only 24 years old, the 28% strikeout rate that he produced last season could be a troubling sign to come of a hitter that lacks discipline. Even management seems to be growing weary of Baty, as Ronny Mauricio started at third towards the end of the season. If Baty is not a solid option moving forward what are the Mets going to do at third?
If they are looking for a stopgap third baseman while they develop their internal options, this could be a good winter for that. They could turn to an old friend in Justin Turner, who despite his age has produced at a high clip. The soon-to-be free 39 year old was extremely productive last season, swinging his way to a 114 OPS+ while also slugging 23 home runs and batting in 96 runs. Even at his age, he proved to be a durable, balanced hitter, which could be a welcome addition to a lineup that was often boom or bust last season. He could also provide great mentorship to Baty, as someone who was once in his shoes as a young infielder in New York. Due to his age, Turner likely won’t command a large salary either, which will allow the Mets to spend on other free agents as well, meaning he could be a great option if the Mets don’t feel comfortable with Baty this season.
Matt Chapman is another option for the Mets this offseason. Chapman had quite an interesting season in 2023, and the best way to look at it is a season of division. The first half, Chapman was elite, capturing April Player of the Month honors and slugging 12 home runs with 39 RBIs. The second half, Chapman was a shadow of his first half, managing only five home runs and 15 RBIs. He was also a starkly different player when looking at his batting splits against lefties and righties. Against lefties, he was a high batting average player, with a .307 average. That number dropped dramatically to .223, but he slugged 13 home runs. What’s undeniable is that Chapman is an elite defender, and would create an incredibly strong left side of the infield with Francisco Lindor. Despite the lower offensive numbers, Chapman will still come at a higher price tag than Turner would due to his age and advanced glove.
Despite having those two options available as potential stopgaps at third base, that still might not be the best option for the Mets as they look to build a sustainable winner. If the Mets were to sign either of these players short-term in order to position themselves to make a splash down the road, there is not that much elite talent that will be available to sign. This increases the pressure to develop Baty or other internal talent to be at least serviceable MLB players.
Barring a trade or signing of Turner or Chapman, the Mets will enter the season with Baty as their primary third baseman. Baty will have this whole offseason to work on his game and prepare for the 2024 season. If this team is looking to field a competitive team this season, Baty might not be what they are looking for at third base. Signing Turner will provide a solid stopgap season and Chapman would provide elite defense, but neither are likely long-term solutions at the position. Unless Baty develops into what his potential could be, the Mets could be looking at a long term issue at third base.