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Former Mets infielder Joe Panik is helping the Blue Jays make a playoff push

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 29: Joe Panik #2 of the New York Mets celebrates after hitting a home run to right field in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field on September 29, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 29: Joe Panik #2 of the New York Mets celebrates after hitting a home run to right field in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field on September 29, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Joe Panik helped the 2019 New York Mets stay competitive. In 2020, he’s doing the same with the Toronto Blue Jays.

In the Toronto Blue Jays’ shortened 2020 season, former New York Mets infielder Joe Panik has been getting a lot of at-bats. In the Blue Jays games I’ve tuned into thus far, I’ve consistently heard one refrain from their announcers whenever Panik comes up to the plate: “Man, all he does is get on base and have quality at-bats!”

Though Panik was only in Queens for half a season, this same brand of plate discipline is exactly why he was brought to Flushing. Despite starting off the 2019 season with a down year in San Francisco, Panik’s play significantly improved when came to the Mets in the midst of the their nearly successful playoff push down the stretch.

The trade was a big change for Panik, who had spent his entire career to that point with the San Francisco Giants. It was also a homecoming of sorts; Panik went to St. John’s University and grew up locally in Hopewell Junction, New York.

“I would love to have played 10, 12, 15 years in San Francisco, but sometimes you need to hit the reset button,” Panik said in 2019 when he was traded. “For me, coming back to New York, I hit the reset button with a fresh start.”

His first game in Flushing was on August 9, 2019, which was Marcus Stroman’s first Citi Field start. On the big New York stage, Panik didn’t panic. He had a hit in the 9th inning of that game, which became better known for Todd Frazier’s game-tying home run and Michael Conforto’s heroic walk-off hit.

Though he consistently hit well that month, Panik’s playing time in Queens was bound to diminish once Robinson Cano came back healthy. Realistically, there would have been no spot for Panik in the Mets’ crowded infield this year. Still, he was a solid player for the Amazins and has been a staple of the Blue Jays’ contending roster in 2020.

Panik got off to a very good start with Toronto, batting as high as .270 entering their series with the New York Yankees on September 7. He has seen time at several infield positions for the Jays, showing off his versatility and steady defense at shortstop, third base, and second base with almost equal time at each position. In 30 games with Toronto, Panik has yet to commit an error and has turned four double plays.

On a Blue Jays team featuring the flashy hitting talents of Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Teoscar Hernandez, Panik’s bat has somewhat flown under the radar. He doesn’t need to be a slugger, since the Jays already have plenty of that. Instead, Panik has been consistently getting on base and avoiding strikeouts. His .356 OBP as of September 13 was 5th among Blue Jays who have played at least 15 games, a better OBP than several Blue Jays regulars.

Panik’s playing time increased when Bichette, normally the everyday shortstop, went on the IL with a sprained knee in mid-August. In that time, his average rose over 100 points, from .160 on August 15 to .261 on September 12. Clearly, he benefited from the extra at-bats, which allowed him to get into more of a groove at the plate to prove his full value for the now-Buffalo Blue Jays.

Bichette returned to the Blue Jays lineup on September 12, meaning that Panik’s playing time could decrease down the stretch. However, if the Jays can hang on for a playoff spot, Panik’s quality at-bats and solid defense should hopefully net him a spot on their postseason roster.

From last year’s brief stop with the Mets to the bizarre shortened season where plays for Toronto in Buffalo, Panik has kept an upbeat attitude about his current place in the baseball world.

“I’m almost treating [this season] as a two-month, on-the-road exploration somewhere,’’ Panik told the Poughkeepsie Journal. “From years past, me and my wife always pack up a car and ship it out with all the home stuff. Now it’s clothes and telling my wife I’ll see you wherever I see you … It’s not a joking matter, but we kind of laugh about it, the way 2020 has gone in so many different ways.”

Next. Three former Mets who deserved more playing time

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With the emergence of Andres Gimenez, Cano still under contract, and J.D. Davis, Amed Rosario, Jeff McNeil, Luis Guillorme, Pete Alonso, and Dominic Smith all commanding time in this year’s Mets infield (and oh yeah, Todd Frazier returning via trade), it is unlikely that Panik and the Mets will reunite any time soon. Still, he was a solid player in Queens and has very good baseball instincts. I wish him ample playing time and success wherever he goes, whether he stays with Toronto or moves his baseball journey elsewhere next season.

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