Mets should consider implementing a platoon at third base in 2022
The New York Mets have had an active offseason so far. Although they have not yet found their next manager, they have signed four free agents, including former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. One of their main acquisitions, infielder Eduardo Escobar, figures to be an important part of their infield.
On paper, Escobar replaces what Jonathan Villar gave the Mets last season. He offers them versatility in the infield, having experience at third base, shortstop, and second base. He also brings a high contact bat and tremendous speed to the Mets. Last season, Escobar swiped 28 bags, and it should be expected that he will be one of the Mets leaders in stolen bases (along with new center fielder Starling Marte, who stole 47 bases in 2021).
What the Mets decide to do with Escobar will be interesting. Because the Mets will be getting Robinson Cano back, along with Jeff McNeil currently as the starter at second, that position does not appear to be an option barring an injury. Francisco Lindor, meanwhile, has the shortstop spot and will not be relinquishing it anytime soon.
That leaves third base as the logical spot for Escobar, a position that has seen a revolving door of players stationed there ever since David Wright retired. Last season, the Mets mostly deployed J.D. Davis and Jonathan Villar there, with Luis Guillorme and Jeff McNeil occasionally playing the hot corner.
Initially, it was expected that Escobar would assume the starting third baseman spot. However, with the uncertainty regarding the MLB lockout, coupled with the fact that Davis is still with the team, the Mets should consider implementing a platoon situation between Escobar and Davis. Doing so would allow the Mets to maximize Davis’s offensive skills and use Escobar’s defensive versatility to their advantage.
Although it is true that Davis’s defense is uninspiring (he had a dWAR of -0.7 last season and -0.9 in 2020), he has performed admirably at the plate during his three-year stint with the Mets. Last season, he compiled a .285/.384/.436 batting line with a .820 OPS. Davis is also a fairly steady hitter; his splits last year indicate that he performed about evenly against right-handed pitchers (.273) and left-handed pitchers (.268).
Escobar’s splits, on the other hand, are a little more drastic. Last season, Escobar raked as a right-handed hitter against lefties (.295), but was only mediocre against right-handed pitchers as a left-handed batter (.238). Given Escobar’s struggles against right-handed hitters, Davis can still provide value to the Mets with his bat, and third base is right now the only spot for him (unless the National League adopts the designated hitter).
Wanting Escobar to be the everyday third baseman is understandable, given his contract, speed, and defensive instincts. Escobar has also made adjustments to his offense, including embracing the launch angle phenomenon that has gripped the league in the past few years. Escobar has certainly earned the opportunity to receive significant playing time. However, entrenching him strictly at third base will prevent the Mets from taking advantage of his versatility. Escobar has spent significant time at shortstop and second base over his career, and could be valuable in the middle infield if Lindor and McNeil were to need a day off or get injured. McNeil’s defense at second base has been suspect at best as well, so you could envision a scenario late in games when the Mets may want to move Escobar over to second to replace McNeil and give Guillorme or Davis the spot at third base.
Therefore, the Mets should consider Escobar more of a utility infielder than strictly a third baseman. Although I am certainly not opposed to Escobar spending the bulk of the time at third base, Davis should split some of the third base reps with him if he is still on the team by Opening Day 2022.