Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
J.D. Davis emerged as one of the most intriguing Mets this past season, a Brodie Van Wagenen success story who had a knack for big hits, a glittering stat line and a catchy nickname: "Just Dingers."
But while Davis mashed enough that the Mets must find a regular lineup spot for him, there is some uncertainty around the 26-year-old slugger this offseason. That means he could be one of the most intriguing Mets of the winter, too.
Is Davis the club's starting left fielder in 2020? What about all those other outfielders on the roster? Perhaps he could start at third base, his regular position in the minors. One former Met believes if Davis were given that job before spring training, the confidence boost would help him handle the position defensively.
Or, is Davis an attractive, controllable trade chip the Mets could use in a deal to address deficiencies in the bullpen?
Whatever happens, Davis at least showed real talent at the plate this past season. He had an OPS of .895 and a slash line of .307/.369/.527 and added 22 home runs in 453 plate appearances. His .665 slugging percentage and 1.078 OPS at home were both the best marks in Mets history.
Here's a look at the Mets options with a bright young hitter:
This is where the Mets prefer Davis right now, though they don't rule out some work at third, too. He played 79 games in left last season, including 71 starts. But the Mets, not a good defensive team overall, often subbed him out for defense.
Defensive metrics were not kind to Davis, but perhaps he improves with the glove with more reps in left -- he played a grand total of 31 games in the outfield in the minors. Right now, says an opposing scout who watched him play, "He's not a good outfielder."
And, depending on what happens this winter, the Mets have corner outfielders already -- Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. If Davis is an outfielder, that makes Jeff McNeil the third baseman, though McNeil proved he can handle the outfield defensively in '19. Dominic Smith needs at-bats and left might offer an opportunity. If the Mets add a center fielder, that crowds the outfield even more. The Mets might not be able to bank on this, but what if Yoenis Céspedes comes back? He'd need a place to play.
Josh Satin played with the Mets from 2011-14, including at third base, and he believes if the Mets told Davis he was their third baseman, Davis could seize the gig and be fine, just like one of Satin's former teammates.
"I think it'd relax him," Satin said. "That's what happened with Daniel Murphy. He wasn't the best second baseman, but they said, 'It's your job.' He became more than playable, because his bat was so good, and it was because they gave him that job. He didn't have to look over his shoulder. The more you play somewhere and the more they tell you it's your job, the more comfortable he's going to get.
"At third, you're getting two to five plays a game. He's good enough to make those plays. He can figure out how to be average at third. There's no reason he can't. He's got a cannon of an arm and he's athletic."
Davis has more pro experience at third than any other position, having played 423 games in the minors there in the Astros' system. But last year, in only 220 innings at third, Davis had minus-9 defensive runs saved. McNeil and Jed Lowrie might figure at third base, too.
The scout called Davis "adequate" at third and offered up Pete Alonso as an example of defensive improvement from one season to the next. "He's not as bad a third baseman as Alonso was at first the year before," the scout said. "It's not like (Davis) never played there before. It has to be worked on." Then the scout added, less hopefully, "But don't you think he's been working on it?"
It's clear Davis still thinks about third, though he spent most of his time with the Mets in left field. In an August interview with the New York Post, he said one of his career goals was to win a Gold Glove at third base.
The Mets have holes to fill and they could use Davis, among other players, in a deal to address other needs.
Davis is appealing because of his thump and his cost control -- he's not eligible for arbitration until 2022 and can't be a free agent until 2025. He was a vital part of a young, energetic core that includes, among others, McNeil, Alonso and Amed Rosario. Maybe an American League team sees him as a designated hitter with the ability to sub elsewhere. Perhaps another club moves him to first base, where he's not blocked by a 53-homer polar bear.
"Maybe they could get a bullpen arm for him," the scout suggested. "You could always play McNeil at third. Outfielders are easier to get. They're going to make some trades. They have decisions to make on some of these guys."