Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns spoke to reporters (including The Athletic’s Tim Britton as well as both Mike Puma and Joel Sherman of the New York Post) today about the club’s plans headed into the Winter Meetings, with a particular focus on potential offensive additions. Stearns indicated that the club’s main focus on the positional side of things is finding an addition to outfield who would play regularly. That’s hardly a surprise, as New York has been connected to recently-posted KBO star Jung Hoo Lee and veteran center fielder Michael A. Taylor in recent days.
After shipping veteran corner bats Mark Canha and Tommy Pham out at the trade deadline over the summer, the club relied primarily on a mix of DJ Stewart, Jeff McNeil, Tim Locastro, and Rafael Ortega to flank center fielder Brandon Nimmo in the corners. Locastro and Ortega have since become free agents, and while Stewart appears ticketed for a bench role next season. Veteran outfielder Starling Marte is expected to patrol right field on a regular basis in 2024 after spending much of the second half on the injured list due to groin issues.
That leaves one outfield spot left to fill, as Stearns acknowledged to reporters today that the club’s preference is for the versatile McNeil to act as the club’s regular second baseman next season. Lee and Taylor could be of particular interest to the Mets if the club hopes to improve its outfield defense, as either addition could allow Nimmo to slide over to left field while taking over in center. Speculatively speaking, the likes of Kevin Kiermaier and Harrison Bader could be other glove-first options worth considering for the Mets this offseason.
If the Mets secure an additional regular for their outfield as planned, it would appear their infield mix is relatively set for the 2024 season. Stearns has previously indicated that he expects first baseman Pete Alonso to remain with the Mets headed into the year, and Francisco Lindor has long been entrenched as the club’s franchise shortstop. With McNeil returning to everyday play at second base, that leaves third as the club’s only question mark on the infield.
Despite the position’s relative uncertainty, Stearns made clear that the Mets are comfortable with their internal options at the hot corner and do not plan on adding additional options to the club’s mix, which currently includes youngsters Brett Baty, Mark Vientos, and Ronny Mauricio as well as recent addition Joey Wendle. Sherman suggests that the club views Wendle as a utility man, suggesting he’s more likely to be ticketed for a bench role with the club than the opening day job at third base. That would leave Baty, Vientos, and Mauricio headed into spring training with a shot at taking over as the club’s regular third baseman. For his part, Stearns suggested that there’s no internal favorite between that trio for the position.
Baty was the club’s starting third baseman for much of the 2023 season but struggled to a .216/.281/.331 slash line in 318 trips to the plate before the club decided to option him back to Triple-A in early August. Baty returned to the big league club in September but saw his struggles continue as he slashed an anemic .194/.216/.292 during the season’s final month. Still, as a former first-round pick and consensus top-30 prospect in the game with a career .981 OPS at the Triple-A level, it’s easy to see why the club could be willing to give Baty another shot as the regular third baseman in his age-24 season next year. That’s especially true given Baty’s .300 xwOBA in 2023, which greatly outstripped his actual production this season, which left him with a meager .266 wOBA.
Vientos, 24 next week, had a torrid first half with the club’s Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse this season, posting an incredible .306/.387/.612 slash line while clubbing 16 home runs and 21 doubles in 61 games. The strong offensive performance earned Vientos a regular role with the club from late July through the end of the season, but Vientos struggled to a .220/.261/.399 slash line with a 31% strikeout rate in those 184 late-season plate appearances. In addition to Vientos’s struggles at the plate, the youngster is viewed as the weakest defender of the trio in the running for regular reps at third base next season, meaning his bat would likely need to take a significant step forward for the Mets to rely on him as their regular third baseman entering next year.
Mauricio, who won’t celebrate his 23rd birthday until April, is both the youngest of the trio and the most inexperienced at the big league level. Once considered a top-50 prospect in the league, Mauricio’s star lost some of its shine after a rough 2022 season where he posted an OBP of just .296 at the Double-A level. Fortunately for Mauricio, his 2023 performance helped to quell doubts about his ability as he slashed a much stronger .292/.346/.506 in 116 games with Syracuse this season. That earned him a brief call-up to the big leagues this season, though he struggled to a .248/.296/.347 slash line in his first 108 trips to the plate against big league pitching. One advantage Mauricio could have in a camp battle against Baty and Vientos is his glove, as Mauricio has more than 3,000 innings of experience at shortstop in the minor leagues and sports an excellent throwing arm that should allow him to handle a transition to regular time at the hot corner without much issue.