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New York Mets: How the Robinson Cano trade impacts Jeff McNeil’s role

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 08: Jeff McNeil #68 of the New York Mets during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field on August 8, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 08: Jeff McNeil #68 of the New York Mets during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field on August 8, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

Although Robinson Cano should become the main second base option for the New York Mets in 2019, there’s plenty of opportunities for Jeff McNeil to impact the team.

With the new acquisition of Robinson Cano, last year’s breakout performer, Jeff McNeil, isn’t likely to start at the keystone for the New York Mets in 2019.

Cano and Edwin Diaz are Mets now. Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Justin Dunn, Jarred Kelenic, and Gerson Bautista are no longer. This shocking turn of events forces us to re-examine the Mets roster, including figuring out where McNeil will slot in for the 2019 season.

Prior to the Cano trade, Brodie Van Wagenen had “penciled in” McNeil to begin the 2019 season as the Mets’ starting second baseman. But, that was before he landed Cano in a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Mariners.

And, given Cano’s veteran status paired with his above-average defensive abilities, there is little chance he will be considered for any position other than second base.

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It is true that Cano relinquished his second base role to Dee Gordon last year and saw time at third base and first base. But, that was right after serving an 80 game suspension after testing positive for furosemide.

Those close to Cano said he was distraught about losing the second base job but could not speak out after losing credibility via the recent suspension. He has also been adamant about his desire to break the all-time home run record for second basemen, trailing only Jeff Kent at the moment.

So, don’t expect Cano to be okay with moving around the infield. He will be the Mets’ second baseman exclusively barring any major changes.

What does this mean for McNeil?

McNeil can play all around the infield and outfield. He’s an exceptional athlete with experience at third base, shortstop, and the corner outfield spots in addition to his main position of second base.

Because Jay Bruce is no longer on the roster, expect McNeil to open up the 2019 season at first base until the Mets have gained an extra year of control on Peter Alonso.

First base should prove no obstacle to McNeil defensively and it will give him a chance to receive regular at-bats for the first couple of weeks of 2019.

After that, McNeil will be a super utility who is capable of filling in anywhere on the field outside of pitcher and catcher.

And, make no mistake, McNeil is a starter. He’ll get at-bats by filling in for every player who needs rest or will get regular time at a position when someone inevitably gets hurt.

There is a reason Van Wagenen pulled McNeil out of the Cano deal. He is clearly highly regarded within the organization and will get a chance to further prove his value in 2019. Rightfully so, too.

McNeil has earned the right to play by slashing .329/.381/.471 over 63 games (53 starts) in the majors last year. He has also shown an ability to steal bases (7 for 8 on stolen bases attempts) as well as hitting for power (22 home runs between the majors and minors).

53 starts is a bit of a small sample size. However, these major league numbers are consistent (actually a little worse) than what he was accomplishing at the minor league level in 2018.

McNeil attributes his meteoric rise to a few changes. Most notably, he put on some muscle over the 2018 offseason, began using a knobless bat, and altered his swing to hit more fly balls.

You also may not have heard of him prior to 2018 because he spent most of the past couple of seasons battling injuries that limited him to just 51 minor league games between 2016 and 2017. Given his health and the blatant differences in his game, it’s fair to say McNeil’s 2018 success was not a fluke.

The Mets are lucky to have such a dynamic player with six more years of control and should continue to treat him as a valuable commodity moving forward.

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Even though he has lost his main position to Cano, expect McNeil to make a big impact on the 2019 Mets.