If you polled 10 Mets fans, all 10 would say that Nick Evans has gotten the short end of the stick in his career with New York. This explains why everyone was so happy that Evans delivered an RBI triple in Saturday’s 11-2 rout of the Phillies. We want to see Evans get a chance to play because we are convinced there is an MLB-quality player just waiting to bust out.
It looked like this would be the year that Evans finally got an extended chance with the Mets. After all he was out of options and the Mets needed a RH bat off the bench. Evans had a solid Spring Training, as he posted a .333/.378/.420 line in 69 at-bats. But he was outplayed by Scott Hairston, who recorded an OPS nearly 300 points higher than Evans and outhomered him 4-0.
The Mets kept Hairston and placed Evans on waivers. To everyone’s surprise, Evans cleared waivers and went back to Triple-A Buffalo. There Evans hit .333 with 5 HR and 16 RBIs in his first 36 games and earned a call back to the majors. He saw sporadic time in his three weeks with the Mets and made matters worse by going hitless in 12 at-bats. Again Evans was placed on waivers and again he cleared.
Evans didn’t sulk. Instead he hit even better than in his first stint in Buffalo. Evans had 39 hits in 84 ABs (.464) with 11 extra-base hits and 13 RBIs in 21 games before being summoned once again to New York. He went hitless in his first start but came through in a couple of appearances as a substitute before coming up with a big hit as a starter in Saturday’s game against Cole Hamels.
There are two main things that Evans brings to a club. First is his ability to hit southpaws and the other is his defensive versatility. Evans is a first baseman but he can also play an outfield corner and in a pinch he could even cover third base. There are people who have carved out a nice career with less to offer.
For example, Matt Diaz has played nine seasons in the majors and has made over $2 million in each of the past three years. Diaz has an .881 OPS in his career versus LHP, which is his meal ticket. By comparison, Evans has an .862 OPS versus southpaws, albeit in just 152 PA. How is it that Diaz, a butcher in the OF, can be worth five times the minimum wage but Evans passes through waivers twice?
The numerous injuries to the Mets’ starters have given Evans another shot in the majors. Now it’s up to him to take advantage and maintain his roster spot once the regulars return. Uncharacteristically, Evans struggled versus southpaws this season. His hit versus Hamels yesterday was his first this year versus a lefty starter.
But the sample size we’re dealing with here is incredibly small. However, when you are trying to impress the decision-makers, you best come through whenever the opportunity presents itself. Evans needs to hit when he gets the chance as the Mets’ walking-wounded should start returning soon.
The Mets should make at least two moves regarding hitters by the end of the month, as both Jose Reyes and David Wright should be back before the start of August. Evans will be in a group along with Lucas Duda, Willie Harris, Jason Pridie and Ruben Tejada vying for the rights to remain in New York. There are reasons to keep all five of these players, so the decision will likely come down to who produces the most in the next week to 10 days.
Duda seems the most likely to go, but if he hits a couple of home runs then everything changes. Pridie has not seen much playing time, but he is a good defensive outfielder and the only legitimate CF besides Angel Pagan on the roster. Harris has seven hits in his last 16 ABs, can play the infield or outfield and has experience as a pinch-hitter. Tejada has struggled with the bat lately but has been praised for his defense and his ability to play SS is a point in his favor, especially given the renewed uncertainty about Reyes’ durability.
Evans’ experience at first base makes him a better candidate than Duda to remain with the club as long as Ike Davis is sidelined. But his time may run out if/when Davis can return to the field. At that point, the Mets will have two capable defensive first baseman besides Evans and Hairston will still be the first choice as a RH bat off the bench. Also, if the Mets opt for either Daniel Murphy or Ruben Tejada as their starting 2B once everyone is healthy, they will also have Justin Turner as a RH pinch-hitting option.
So, Evans needs to produce and he needs to do it right away. Yesterday’s game, where he had a hit, a walk, two runs and an RBI, was a big step in the right direction. Now he just needs to do more of the same. Unfortunately, the next six pitchers the Mets are scheduled to face are all righties, which means that Evans is likely to be on the bench.
But if Evans wants to remain in the majors, he’ll have to get used to prolonged stretches where he does not start. Pinch-hitting will be a big part of his job and he will have to come though in those opportunities to impress the brass. So far this season, Evans is 1-4 with three walks as a pinch-hitter.