According to Sports Illustrated's Pat Ragazzo, the New York Mets will entertain offers for utilityman Jeff McNeil after the lockout comes to an end. While McNeil is coming off the worst season of his MLB career, many view his 2021 season as more of an outlier than a bad omen.
Considering the high upside McNeil presents and his defensive versatility, the Mets would likely be better off banking on McNeil bouncing back rather than to trade him in order to fill other needs before signing a free agent to replace him.
McNeil slashed a pedestrian .251/.319/.360 in 2021. However, considering the fact he posted batting averages of .329, .318 and .311 the previous three seasons, it makes sense as to why there were multiple teams to reach out to the Mets about McNeil in the weeks leading up to the lockout. Among the likely contributing factors to McNeil's struggles were injuries and bad luck.
McNeil missed over a month of the season with a strained hamstring. Even after returning, he still dealt with lingering issues with it, to the point he was advised to take it easy on the base paths and had to sit on the bench every few games. Still, McNeil continued to make frequent and solid contact at the plate, but the results often didn't favor him. He posted a 33.6 hard hit percentage in 2021, bested only by his 38.1% in 2019.
It's also possible the Mets are more willing to part with McNeil because they view him as a negative presence in the clubhouse. His infamous "Rat/Racoon" confrontation with Francisco Lindor in the dugout tunnel on May 7 indicated there was a lot of tension building between the two prior to Lindor grabbing McNeil by the throat. McNeil had been dismissive of management regarding positional adjusting for hitters, much to the chagrin of Lindor and then-manager Luis Rojas.
New Mets manager Buck Showalter's pedigree and experience may make it easier to get Jeff McNeil to follow his instructions than those of the less-experienced Luis Rojas.
New manager Buck Showalter may command more respect from McNeil than Rojas, who couldn't seem to get a rein on his players. Showalter brings with him a long and accomplished managerial pedigree and a positive reputation among players he's managed. Just as he's had to adapt to implementing analytics in his managerial duties, so too must Showalter get McNeil to follow analytics.
If the Mets were to trade McNeil, there aren't many great options available for the Mets to replace him. Kris Bryant could be an intriguing option and the Mets continue to show interest in him.
Like McNeil, Bryant is versatile enough to play multiple positions effectively, both in the infield and outfield. However, some teams are wary of his injury history and how they may affect him later in his career. Of particular concern is how his swing will age with him. It's also worth remembering that with the universal DH likely to be implemented as part of the new CBA agreement, the Mets could just keep McNeil and sign Bryant while having both players in the lineup.
Of all the times to consider trading McNeil, this may not be the optimal one for the Mets to do it. While there's reason to be optimistic about him bouncing back, McNeil is still coming off the worst season of his career. His trade value has never been lower since he made his MLB debut in 2018.
Still, the Mets can and should do their due diligence by listening to what other teams are willing to offer for him. However, they should be asking a lot in return for McNeil, as he's shown a strong hitting ability and can play multiple positions effectively in the majors. Additionally, he's under team control through the 2024 season.
The only scenario in which the Mets should trade McNeil this offseason is if a team offers them something so good in return that they can't say no. Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt of the Oakland A's and Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray of the Cincinnati Reds may be the only players who'll be on the trade market this offseason that should get the Mets to pull the trigger on a McNeil trade.