Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Might be a strange way to start a story about Jeff McNeil, but here goes: Jed Lowrie is a very good ballplayer.
The Mets are a better club after adding Lowrie on a two-year, $20-million deal Thursday. He's no "if," that's for sure. And the Mets should be applauded for bringing in a switch-hitter who should play regularly around the infield and deliver offense, even if some believe they needed a righty outfielder more.
But signing Lowrie makes us wonder about McNeil, a second-half sensation last year: Where does he fit now on this Mets roster?
McNeil was one of the best stories of a mostly-disappointing 2018 for the Mets. The "old" rookie, who bloomed in the minors, hit his way to a promotion and made the most of his chance.
Man, it would've been fun to see if he could replicate his remarkable first season. McNeil, who made his debut on July 24, batted .329 with a .381 on-base percentage and a .471 slugging in 63 games, mostly at second base. He had a 140 OPS-plus and rapped 11 doubles, six triples and three homers.
A scout from another club even said McNeil reminded him of Daniel Murphy, praising McNeil's consistent contact to all fields.
Will we ever find out if he can be that player over a full season and perhaps beyond? Seems unlikely now, seeing how it'll be difficult for McNeil to soar like that if he's not getting frequent chances. That's too bad.
The Mets' infield is crowded. If McNeil ends up as a regular, that likely means that something's gone wrong with Lowrie, Todd Frazier or, gulp, Robinson Cano. Or perhaps Peter Alonso's arrival is postponed for some reason.
For now, McNeil seems like infield insurance and pinch-hitter and not much more. Maybe he gets a deeper outfield education and is a sub there (he played nine games in the outfield in the minors), as well as on the dirt. We'll see what kind of value he can add - it's not always easy for younger players to morph into effective bench pieces.
Maybe there are more moves coming. Maybe moving McNeil in a trade is one of them. But if he's expendable following the Lowrie signing, couldn't the Mets have sought to sell high on McNeil earlier this winter?
The Mets may have to make another infield move, anyway. Or at least carry another infielder who can play shortstop for the days Amed Rosario is off. Yes, Lowrie has played 508 games at short in his career, but the last time he manned the position was 2016, when he played two games there. He played short 17 times in 2015. He's going to be 35 in April.
Perhaps we're too attached to McNeil or, rather, the romantic notion of his ascent to the Majors and surprise breakout last year. He is, after all, turning 27 in April. The former 12th-round pick had some nice numbers in the minor leagues, but nothing that would tab him as a sure thing.
Lowrie, however, might be one. He's 27th overall in the Majors in WAR over the past two seasons. His 8.8 bWAR is better than bigger-name players such as Kris Bryant (8.1), Didi Gregorius (8.0) and Matt Carpenter (7.8).
The Mets should be better with him. But we might not get the full answer on what kind of player McNeil could be.