John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- A couple of hours after Todd Frazier had officially joined Jed Lowrie as an early injury casualty, GM Brodie Van Wagenen stood in the sun, Ray Bans on, making the case to reporters that he'd essentially accounted for just this possibility.
"This was part of the design," he said, "to make sure we had versatility and depth to cover whatever comes our way."
That's certainly one way of looking at it, and indeed the new GM made a point of addressing depth this offseason to protect against injuries in ways the Mets had not the last couple of years.
However, you don't have to be too cynical to wonder if that first quote from Van Wagenen wasn't missing an important word. As in, "This was part of the (flawed) design."
The flawed part, of course, being the decision to count as heavily on older players as it appears the Mets will in 2019, including the 30-something acquisitions in Lowrie, Robinson Cano, and Wilson Ramos.
Throw in Frazier, who could wind up playing a lot of first base if Pete Alonso proves not ready to hit big-league pitching. And with four potentially important position players in their 30s, the Mets are bucking the trend in the sport that is putting more emphasis on youth than ever.
It doesn't mean Van Wagenen won't be right in trusting the older players he signed. Lowrie, Cano, and Ramos all have track records of offensive success, which the Mets desperately need to boost production in what was their feeble offense last season.
It just means he has set himself up to be second-guessed in a big way if injuries become a major part of the story. Again.
To be fair, Van Wagenen didn't have much choice but to upgrade the offense via the free-agent market and trades, and the best way to do that without relying on players in their 30s would have been to take advantage of the rare opportunity to sign one of two 26-year old superstars.
You might have heard of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.
However, that was ownership's call, not Van Wagenen's. And while a New York team with major offensive needs should have been willing to spend on either of those players, the Mets never considered it.
That said, the GM has a lot riding on the 36-year old Cano and the 34-year old Lowrie -- two of his former clients -- and to some degree, the 31-year old, oft-injured Ramos.
As it turned out, Van Wagenen almost surely could have acquired J.T. Realmuto, the soon-to-be 28-year-old star catcher, had he waited out the Marlins as the Phillies did in finally getting him in a trade. But it's hard to be critical of the decision to move on and sign Ramos, considering the high price the Marlins were asking at the time, and the GM's desperate need to upgrade the catching position.
The signing of Lowrie made less sense, at least to me, considering his age and the fact that he is primarily a middle infielder who will be playing mostly third base for the Mets.
A.J. Pollock is no kid, but at age 31, he's younger than Lowrie, and though he has had injury issues himself, he would have been a much better fit for the Mets. He's a center fielder who can hit, and such a move would have allowed Jeff McNeil to stay in the infield rather than move to left field.
As it turns out, of course, McNeil might have to move back to the infield, as Lowrie's knee injury and Frazier's oblique ailment could both linger long enough to put Opening Day in doubt.
The other option to fill in at third would be J.D. Davis, one of the depth pieces Van Wagenen acquired this winter in a trade with the Astros, but Davis had a rough day playing first base here on Tuesday, so you wonder about him playing third.
For the moment, at least, Van Wagenen said McNeil will continue work in the outfield.
"We know we can move him back to the infield," Van Wagenen said, "and there's plenty of time so if we need him to get more reps at third base, then we can."
Fair enough. No sense overloading McNeil, who so far has looked OK in left field, but it's worth remembering he's played mostly second base in his career and will need time to get comfortable at third if the Mets wind up needing him there.
As for first base, this opens the door wider for Alonso should he have a strong spring, making it more difficult for the Mets to justify starting the season with him in the minors, even if a couple of weeks there would give them an extra year of control before free agency.
If anything, in fact, the early injuries to older players are reason to believe the Mets are going to need big seasons from the young guys, notably Alonso, McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, and Amed Rosario , if they're going to be serious contenders.
And even then, they're going to have to hope these early injuries to their older veterans aren't a sign of things to come.