After struggling in 2021, Jeff McNeil, Dominic Smith, and J.D. Davis all entered the offseason with their futures in Flushing very much up in the air. Once viewed as integral parts of the future of the New York Mets, it now seems like the three players could all be shipped out of town for spare parts.
After the additions of Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha and Starling Marte in free agency, it became all the more certain than ever that at least some — if not all — of them will be wearing a different jersey in 2022.
McNeil might be the most likely to stay due to his position versatility and the uncertainty surrounding his position of second base, however one more move could change that in a snap. Smith too has a lot of potential upside at the plate, as he received down-ballot NL MVP votes in 2020, just two seasons ago.
However, of the trio, Davis is actually the one who the Mets should prioritize holding onto.
Did you know Davis actually still had a solid year hitting-wise in 2021?
In 73 games and 211 plate appearances, he hit .285/.384/.436 — nothing insane, but that’s still an OPS of .820. He wasn’t a qualified hitter because he dealt with injuries for much of the season, but of Mets hitters with at least 200 PAs, his OPS only trailed Pete Alonso (.863) and Brandon Nimmo (.838).
There's one key piece of information though that doesn't show up on the stat sheet. Davis had to do most of that damage while essentially swinging with one hand.
For much of the season, Davis was plagued by an injury to a ligament in his left hand, as Justin Toscano of northjersey.com reported. He played just one game into May before he hit the injured list for what at the time was referred to as a left hand sprain.
At the time of the injury, he was nothing short of scorching hot, hitting .405/.490/.617 through his first 15 games. After Davis hit the IL he would go on to miss 66 games of the season, not returning until after the All-Star break.
When he returned, Davis would go on to hit .248/.352/.380 in 58 games before he hit the IL again in mid-September for the same injury, ending his season. It’s very clear Davis was just not the same after he hurt his hand. He even admitted to Toscano that it was something that he tried to play through.
“I just couldn’t perform the way I needed to after that,” Davis was quoted saying through text in Toscano’s article. “I was being told it shouldn’t take that long to heal so thought I could gut it out for the rest of the season, but after getting two injections and completing months of rehab, it just never got better.”
It was obvious to anyone who watched the Mets in the second half of the year that Davis just wasn’t his usual self. He looked overmatched by high-velocity pitches, and it’s clear now why.
In 2019, his breakout season, Davis had a .326 average, .412 wOBA and 91.2 average exit velocity against pitches 95 mph or harder. In 2020, even though he didn’t have a great 60-game season, he still put up a .333 average, .473 wOBA and 92.0 average exit velocity against that same heat.
In 2021 though, all three numbers plummeted, with Davis posting a .190 batting average, .282 wOBA and 86.7 average exit velocity when faced with that 95-plus mph cheddar. He just couldn’t catch up with a bum left hand.
Even with that, his .731 OPS after the All-Star break was better than the OPS both Smith (.667) and McNeil (.679) put up over the whole season. The craziest part about that stat is how Davis still out-hit them while playing hurt, and it wasn't even that close. For the whole season, Davis’ .820 OPS blows Smith and McNeil away.
Just looking at each player’s OPS+, Smith had an 84, McNeil had an 88 and Davis, had a 126. Not only was Davis a 26% better hitter than the league average, Smith and McNeil were 16% and 12% worse hitters than the league average, respectively.
Yet, for some reason, Davis is often the one fans are most eager to send out of town.
Even someone on this very website GUARANTEED Davis will be traded in the offseason (sorry Tim). Smith and McNeil were also both brought up as candidates in the article, but Davis was the headliner, the one player whose 2021 performance absolutely bought his ticket out of town.
Yes, Davis is a very bad fielder. He’s gotten marginally better since his first year with the Mets, but overall, he’s a negative in the field.
But here’s the thing — in all likelihood, the designated hitter is coming to the National League in 2022. It’s not confirmed yet, but it’s something that will undoubtedly be ironed out in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is agreed upon, whenever that may be.
Let’s put it this way: Jon Heyman tweeted that “many NL teams are in on Nelson Cruz,” who played just seven innings at first base the entirety of last season — and that was the first time he played the field since 2018.
Teams are confident a DH is coming to the NL. When it does, Davis should slot right in as the Mets’ everyday starter. Even if he doesn’t because of the return of Robinson Canó, Davis should be given the opportunity to hit his way into the everyday lineup, just as he did in 2019.
Davis is also projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make just $2.7 million next season and is under team control through 2024. With the current payroll of a gajillion dollars, having someone like Davis who provides good production at a low price is very valuable.
Besides, there aren’t many players you can get for under $3 million who put up an objectively great on-base percentage of .384, which was No. 13 in all of baseball for players with a minimum of 200 PAs.
Davis’ value is low right now. He’s coming off a season where he finished with just 0.8 bWAR due to a combination of missing a huge chunk of the season, trying to gut through injury when he did play and his poor defense. The Mets shouldn’t give up on him now because the value of what they would get back in a trade is probably nowhere near the upside Davis brings.
He received surgery this offseason to repair his hand and should be fully healthy by the time Spring Training rolls around, as Toscano reported. His defense also just doesn’t matter anymore if the DH comes to the NL as pretty much everyone expects. The only thing that matters is his hitting, and that hitting, when he is fully healthy, is elite.
McNeil should be given a chance to have a bounce-back season, and he might be the Mets’ best option at second base right now anyway. Smith’s value might be too low to even trade currently, considering he’s coming off a just horrendous season where he put up a bWAR of minus-0.7. Why not bring him back at that point if all the Mets are going to get for him in a trade is a refurbished L screen.
This isn't meant to say those two players should be traded, keeping them around in bench roles to start the season isn't a bad idea. Last season is the perfect example as to why, as the Mets needed to go at least three deep on the depth chart at virtually every position because of all the injuries.
With that said, if the Mets only keep one of the trio of McNeil, Smith and Davis, it HAS to be Davis. He's just simply too good.