Weighing Jeff McNeil's Expendability
Squirrel reportedly on the block, but does it make sense for Mets?
Image credit: Chris Simon
On Friday, Pat Ragazzo of SI.com reported that the New York Mets will continue sifting through potential trade partners for Jeff McNeil once the owners’ lockout of the players is lifted, confirming Mike Mayer’s report from November (Metsmerized) that the Mets were indeed getting calls on the 29-year-old super-utilityman.
In late September we discussed McNeil’s meteoric rise, his hellacious 2021 campaign, and the intertwined fall from grace, as well as the Mets’ dilemma moving forward trying to determine where their incumbent super-utilityman fits into future plans.
Look, we know what McNeil can bring to a ball club when he’s right. Hustle, contact, strong defense. Scrappiness. Nothing wrong with that. A boon, in fact.
From his debut in 2018 through the COVID-shortened 2020 season, McNeil led the majors in batting average (.319), his .383 on-base percentage and 140 wRC+ were both good for 11th in baseball, and his 12.0% strikeout rate was seventh. That’s all elite.
Finding a place for this level of player shouldn’t be that tough, right? Not exactly.
Despite a world of potential as a ballplayer, including the defensive versatility that the Mets’ new front office has appeared to value during its brief tenure, McNeil’s availability via trade isn’t terribly surprising. Like, at all.
Friction with superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor last season (which eventually led to blows in the clubhouse) was well-documented. It’s one thing if that particular body of water has traveled under the bridge, but Lindor’s here for the very long haul. A decade, to be exact. That sort of tension can’t be left lingering.
So is McNeil expendable? Maybe. The Mets added an infielder in Eduardo Escobar who can start at second and third base. Robinson Cano is expected to get his reps at the keystone and — if applicable — as a designated hitter. Luis Guillorme is still here and has already proven his worth as a capable fill-in. Khalil Lee and Nick Plummer can easily slide into corner outfield depth spots. The Mets have got the necessary bodies.
Plus, the team’s motivation to conduct a near-total overhaul of the previous core shouldn’t be all that unexpected considering the disappointment that’s ensued in recent years and the new organizational page that’s been turned this winter. Oh, and the fact that McNeil was mostly awful last season probably plays into things.
How other teams might value McNeil after his subpar 2021 season (.251/.319/.360, 93 wRC+) is certainly a point of debate. We all know what he can be and the track record lends credence to that. Naturally, interested teams will lean on what he has been as of late.
No one with a rooting interest in the orange and blue wants to see the Mets get fleeced and McNeil return to All-Star form in another uniform. But on the flip side of that coin, this could work out in New York’s favor.
If potential suitors are taking into account McNeil’s full body of work as opposed to solely his downturn last year — a la Michael Conforto entering free agency coming off the worst statistical season of his career — the Mets could very well come away with a respectable haul for McNeil (free agent after 2024).
Ragazzo notes New York would like to flip McNeil into a rotation-bolstering move, adding a fifth starter to the already outstanding quartet of Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, and Taijuan Walker.
With Tylor Megill, David Peterson, and maybe Trevor Williams currently penciled in as contenders for the fifth turn in line, the Mets — already knee-deep in a concerted effort to field a championship-caliber team in 2022 and beyond — would certainly be putting an exclamation point on their rotation with another significant addition.
Megill and Peterson as depth (or possibly out of the bullpen as long-men in Robert Gsellman’s absence (non-tender) is a nice place to be. In the same respect, though, having an effective Jeff McNeil on your roster is a luxury, as well.
It really is a tricky spot. Should be interesting.
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