All season long in 2021, through miraculous ups and devastating downs, the New York Mets have preached one familiar refrain: this team’s chemistry is too good to disturb. A lot of that chemistry stems from the mostly-homegrown core of players, several of whom comprise a group dubbed “The Cookie Club” in a February 2020 article published on MLB.com.
Mets fans are very familiar with the six players included in this group, which has developed somewhat of a cult following: Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis, Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith, and Jeff McNeil. These six position players, all of whom have had some level of success at the big league level, were supposed to be the lovable core of fan favorites that would, ideally, lead the Mets to their first postseason berth since 2016.
The jury is still out on exactly how the 2021 season will finish, but with each passing week, it appears more and more likely that this group of six may not be together for too much longer. Conforto is a free agent after the 2021 season, Nimmo is a free agent after the 2023 season, and Davis has struggled to stay healthy and produce both offensively and defensively after a breakout 2019 season. McNeil, Alonso, and Smith are not eligible to be free agents until after the 2025 season, so it’s unlikely that they’ll be going anywhere soon unless one of them is traded.
Of this group of six Mets players, based on their 2021 seasons, Conforto and Davis unfortunately might have to be the odd cookies out in 2022.
Before the 2021 season started, many Mets fans were clamoring for Conforto to be given a generous extension alongside Francisco Lindor. Conforto put up a career-high .322 batting average and .412 on-base percentage in the shortened season in 2020 and led the National League with six outfield assists. He also put up 2.1 bWAR in just 56 games.
By comparison, his average has hovered at or below the Mendoza line for much of 2021, a season in which he also missed over a month with a hamstring strain. He has also put up just 0.7 bWAR in 79 games (as of August 13), indicating that he has been far less valuable to the team in more games played this year than last.
Assuming that Conforto doesn’t take a qualifying offer from the Mets and enters free agency in the offseason, he will join a free agent outfield class that includes Mark Canha, Chris Taylor, Tommy Pham, Starling Marte, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler, among others. Entering this season, one would have assumed that Conforto would be the most desirable long-term option out of that group, but the season has not played out that way.
Marte entered play on August 13 batting .326 with a .415 OBP and an .892 OPS. He has also been a potent threat on the bases, swiping 31 bags so far. Taylor, a first-time All-Star in 2021, has also put up strong offensive numbers that far outstrip Conforto’s 2021 production (.279 average, .369 OBP, 17 home runs, 62 RBIs) and has been consistently healthy, playing in 110 of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 115 games entering play on August 13.
The way that the 2021 season has played out, Conforto simply has not risen to the top of the outfield free agent class, and as such, has not proven to be materially more valuable offensively than another free agent that the Mets might sign to replace him, though he is a couple of years younger (29) than Marte (33), Taylor (31), and many of the other impending free agent outfielders.
When shifting attention to Davis, his on-field play this season has also not inspired confidence that he can or should be a long-term solution at third base. It may not be totally fair to evaluate his season as a whole since he missed two and a half months with a sprained hand, from May 2 through July 15. Nevertheless, since he returned from injury about a month ago, he has been slow to make a big impact on the Mets lineup, batting .258 with two homers, seven RBIs, and 24 strikeouts in 78 plate appearances.
Davis’ glove has always been the big question, not his bat, and despite the Mets giving him the starting job again at the season’s onset, he has not sufficiently stepped up his defense to make a strong case for being a long-term option at third. His defensive runs saved (DRS) at third base has been negative for every year of his Mets tenure — it was -9 in 2019, -8 in 2020, and stands at -5 so far in 2021.
This stands out like a sore thumb compared with the Mets defense overall this year, which is tied with the San Francisco Giants for third in all of baseball with 45 defensive runs saved so far this season. Unfortunately, if the Mets really want to improve their defense from head to toe going forward, Davis may have to be the odd man out.
Of course, no matter how badly Conforto or Davis have performed this year, fans have fond memories that may cloud their desire to ship them out. Conforto will always be tied to the magical 2015 second half that he helped spearhead, and did hit two home runs in a World Series game as a rookie. He also provided heroics in 2019 with the walk-off to end one of the wildest games in recent Mets history, and has provided two walk-off RBIs in 2021 along with other clutch go-ahead home runs and game-saving plays. He’s a homegrown guy, a fan favorite, and one of the longest tenured Mets. Sentimentally, it would definitely be a shame to see him go.
As for Davis, he has wholeheartedly embraced the Cookie Club moniker and become another Mets fan favorite. In 2019, he provided another energetic walk-off moment against the Cleveland Indians, batted .307 over 140 games, and rose in status from “who is this random Astros player that the Mets traded for” to “this guy should be an important part of the Mets’ future.” In 2020, he took on the role of co-hosting the SNY web series “The Cookie Club” alongside Smith and Steve Gelbs, which provided delightful hilarity during the pandemic. Davis has always been likable. The entire Cookie Club crew has always been likable.
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But, after watching one of the most barren stretches of offense in recent Mets history in 2021, it is clear that yes, clubhouse chemistry breeds wins, but good players breed more wins. The Mets may need to move on from a couple of fan favorites and accept that the position player core, as currently constructed, simply is not good enough to take this team deep into October.