Part of the reason the Mets have been successful early in 2018 is their overall team depth. It’s been well documented how converted starting pitchers Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo have transitioned into key cogs in the bullpen, but a similar story can be found on New York’s bench.
Wilmer Flores’ bat could earn him an everyday opportunity on a lot of different teams in baseball, and the fan favorite has contributed two clutch home runs in the past week, including a walk-off winner last Sunday.
Brandon Nimmo has reached base safely in 13 of 27 official plate appearances, a ridiculous .481 clip. The Mets’ first round pick from the 2011 draft hit a crucial home run himself in the game Flores ultimately ended, and he’s also added a double and two triples.
Juan Lagares is simply one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game, and his skills in the outfield have already been on display in the seasons’ first few weeks. But the lifetime .259 hitter has also swung the bat much better than the back of his baseball card, as he currently carries a .385 batting average through his first 26 at-bats, and his .433 OBP is second to only Nimmo on the team.
While the Mets’ catching situation is currently a little bit of a mess, prior to both Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki landing on the disabled list, New York felt confident they had a capable reserve waiting on the pine every day.
And then there is Jose Reyes.
We all know a large contingent of the Mets’ faithful was against bringing the long-time shortstop back in 2016 after his domestic violence arrest in November of the previous year. Whatever your feelings on that are, I’d prefer to keep this about strictly Reyes the baseball player, and unfortunately early in 2018 that moniker may be a little generous.
Through New York’s first 18 games this season Reyes has not been bad, he’s been atrocious. The 34-year old has registered 17 official at-bats and he’s failed to make solid contact in any of them, let alone pick up a base hit. His struggles were never more evident than Tuesday night, when the veteran appeared as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning with the Mets trailing by one, with runners on the corners, and promptly struck out on a weak swing that resembled a dizzy toddler attempting to strike a piñata.
Sadly, Reyes’ poor start has not been limited to the batters box, as he’s displayed woeful baseball acumen in every aspect of his game.
Take April 3 against Philadelphia, for example, his first start of the season. In the second inning, Adrian Gonzalez had grounded out leading off the frame, and d’Arnaud had followed with a strikeout. Reyes came to the plate with two outs and nobody on base, and drew a walk (literally the only time he’s reached base safely without the benefit of an error all year). That brought Matt Harvey to the plate, and for all intents and purposes Reyes had done his job as the number eight hitter. The pitcher had been cleared, and in all probability New York would be able to start the third inning with the top of their batting order coming up. Inexplicably however, Reyes attempted to steal second base, a bad baseball play even if you make it. He got a poor jump and was easily gunned down by Phillies’ catcher Jorge Alfaro, leaving fans and the coaches shaking their heads.
Leading off the next inning for Philadelphia, their pitcher Blake Lively hit a hard ground ball directly at Reyes; he hardly had to move. Instead, the ball skirted through his legs for an error as a chorus of boos rained down on number seven.
We all remember the abysmal start Reyes got off to a year ago, and while his final slash line of .246/.315/.413 was far from beautiful, he actually did play pretty well down the stretch to prevent the poor beginning from making those numbers look even worse. His 15 homers, 58 RBIs, 25 doubles, seven triples and 24 stolen bases were all serviceable as well. That all came while for the most part playing everyday, however, where you’re far more likely to find some consistency over time. I do believe as the weather gets warmer, and with more plate appearances, he may be able to figure some things out, but Reyes is never going to get that opportunity on the 2018 Mets, and for that reason the club seriously needs to think about other options for the last spot on their bench.
New York currently has two prime candidates in Triple-A Las Vegas who could assume Reyes’ role as reserve infielder/pinch-hitter, beginning with one who was actually on the team’s opening day roster this season.
Phillip Evans was with New York for the season’s first week before being bumped from the 25- man roster when Michael Conforto returned from the DL, and he’d have to be the first choice if the team were to make a move. The 25-year old has always hit in the minor leagues, his versatility is second to none as he could even serve as an emergency catcher, and he’s currently getting on base at a .366 clip for the 51s.
Gavin Cecchini was the Mets’ first round pick in 2012, and while the Louisiana native has yet to establish himself at the game’s highest level, he has very little left to prove in the minors. He’s a lifetime .283 minor league hitter, who showed flashes in 77 at-bats with the big club a year ago, most notably taking Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw deep. (Although admittedly that’s not the best example to support this argument, because Reyes himself took the future Hall of Famer deep twice in that game)
Long term, T.J. Rivera is likely the best option to replace Reyes on the active roster, but there has been very little in the way of updates regarding his rehab from Tommy John surgery, and his return is obviously far from imminent.
In the meantime, you’d like to think it’s a given that Mets’ brass has had internal discussions about the situation, and it really bears watching how much patience they’ll have moving forward. New York has been playing a plethora of close, well-pitched games thus far, and in those types of contests your bench and bullpen are what often determine the outcome. Not to be overly dramatic, but having what equates to a black hole pinch-hitting in crucial spots like last night is simply untenable, and something needs to give.
Photo credit: Steve Mitchell – USA Today Sports