Who should fill out Mets’ infield in 2022? Breaking down internal and external options

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Robinson Cano Jeff McNeil Kris Bryant Mark Vientos treated art

Robinson Cano Jeff McNeil Kris Bryant Mark Vientos treated art

Whenever the MLB lockout ends — and it kind of has to end by the middle of February in order for the season to start on time — the Mets will get back to work building their roster for 2022 and figuring out how every piece will fit.

The Mets did a lot of their heavy lifting before the lockout, but there are still a bunch of areas that need to be shored up.

One of those areas is the starting rotation, where one more reliable arm is needed.

Another area is the bullpen, which could use a lefty and maybe one more late-inning option.

When it comes to the infield, the Mets are set at two positions, have a starting player in place for one of the two other positions, and have a bunch of internal options if they want to fill the fourth spot from within.

New York could also go external for the last infield piece, with a big name still possible.

Let’s break it down…

What is already set?

It’s safe to say that on Opening Day, barring injuries or weirdness, Francisco Lindor will be at shortstop and Pete Alonso will be at first base.

Jun 8, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; New York Mets designated hitter Pete Alonso (20) is greeted by shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) after a two-run home run in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Jun 8, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; New York Mets designated hitter Pete Alonso (20) is greeted by shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) after a two-run home run in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

For those who wonder whether the Mets could use Dominic Smith at first base and slide Alonso to DH in the likely event the National League adds one as part of the new CBA, it should be pointed out that Alonso is on record as having no interest in becoming a DH.

Could the Mets force the issue? Sure. But there really is no good reason to displace Alonso, potentially angering him in the process, in order to accommodate Smith — not when Alonso has turned himself into an above average first baseman while Smith has struggled to find consistency offensively.

Escobar, who was signed to a two-year deal in November, said shortly after becoming a Met that he would prefer to play third base but would play wherever he is needed.

That gives the Mets some freedom.

They could simply slide Escobar in at third base and fill second base from within or externally.

Aug 10, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Eduardo Escobar (5) reacts after a play against the Chicago Cubs during the seventh inning at Wrigley Field.

Aug 10, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Eduardo Escobar (5) reacts after a play against the Chicago Cubs during the seventh inning at Wrigley Field.

They could plan to use Escobar at second base and fill third base from within or internally.

What would arguably make the most sense to start the 2022 season, though, is going internal at second base (with Escobar at third) or external at third base (with Escobar at second).

And if he’s at third base, Escobar should not be splitting time with J.D. Davis, whose defense there isn’t nearly good enough.

Internal options for second base

The most obvious option is Jeff McNeil, who appears due for a bounce back season after a down 2021, but could be traded before being given the chance to rebound in New York.

I argued shortly after the season ended that the Mets should not sell low on McNeil. He was an exceptional hitter during the first three seasons of his career from 2018 to 2020, is relatively inexpensive, and is under team control through 2024.

Jul 28, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil (6) follows through on an RBI single against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning at Citi Field.

Jul 28, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil (6) follows through on an RBI single against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning at Citi Field.

If the Mets are intent on trading McNeil, they’ll hopefully only pull the trigger if it’s for someone who can make an impact. Three years of a hitter of McNeil’s caliber should bring back real value.

Another option for second base could be Robinson Cano, who will be looking to return at age 39 after being suspended for the entire 2021 season due to his second PED violation.

But it would be quite risky for the Mets to not only count on Cano being productive with the bat but also count on him being able to play the field. Complicating things is that if the Mets keep Smith and there’s a DH added, that spot will be crowded.

External options for third base

If the Mets are going to bring in someone from the outside while sliding Escobar to second base and possibly blocking some of their top prospects (more on that below), they should really only be doing it if they’re bringing in a difference-maker.

That difference-maker should also be versatile.

Enter Kris Bryant, who can play corner outfield and first base in addition to third base.

San Francisco Giants third baseman Kris Bryant (23) throws the ball to first base to record an out during the fourth inning against the San Diego Padres at Oracle Park.

San Francisco Giants third baseman Kris Bryant (23) throws the ball to first base to record an out during the fourth inning against the San Diego Padres at Oracle Park.

Signing Bryant and having Escobar at second would also make a McNeil trade more understandable, since he’d be squeezed out of a regular role. But again, the Mets should only pull the trigger on a McNeil trade if the price is right.

Verdict

There is an easy case to be made that the Mets should put a cherry on top of their offseason by signing the versatile Bryant — and they were among the teams interested in Bryant before the lockout.

But unless Bryant gets a lot less than he initially expected, the Mets would arguably be better off plugging McNeil in at second base and letting him cook.

Not having Bryant and what would almost certainly be another $100 million-plus contract on the books would also allow the Mets greater freedom when it comes to the potential debuts of Mark Vientos and Brett Baty, who could both reach the majors at some point in 2022 and could both be options at third base and in left field.

Additionally, not signing Bryant would also theoretically give the Mets greater financial flexibility to explore long-term deals now with players such as Brandon Nimmo, Alonso, and Edwin Diaz, and — if he opts out after 2022 — Jacob deGrom.

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