Much to the chagrin of many New York Mets fans, the most recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA) made it so that National League teams had to use a designated hitter (DH) instead of just American League teams. So, starting this season, gone are the days of highlights like this or this. Instead, the Mets have had to plug different players into the DH spot.
But that’s the thing–the Mets don’t have a designated DH. They have tended to use certain players more often than not but overall they don’t have a go-to, certified DH–like Miguel Cabrera on the Tigers. It has been a rotation of different players, with Buck Showalter giving different players time at the spot to make sure everyone plays. Additionally, he has used the DH spot to give players rest without completely sitting them out.
Even though it has worked out so far, should the Mets be exploring other options? Should they focus their sights on a certified DH who they can consistently keep at that spot? With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Mets could be looking to make a move soon. However, they may not even have to.
As it stands, the player with the most appearances at DH so far this season is J.D. Davis. It makes sense, as Davis’ defense has been suspect and the acquisition of Eduardo Escobar has given them a better option at third base. The DH allows Davis’ strong bat to still be in the lineup without being a liability on the field. Additionally, despite missing some time after getting hit on the hand, he continues to be at the top of the league in average exit velocity. In other words, he hits the ball hard which can often lead to hits–which has helped him reach 36 hits already (compared to 51 last year).
After Davis is Pete Alonso, who has the second-most appearances at DH. In his case, playing at DH allows his MVP-caliber bat to stay in the lineup while getting some rest from fielding. However, Showalter has also played Alonso at DH to give fellow first baseman Dominic Smith more playing time as well. While both of them are great on defense, the DH allows both of them to play on any given day. Despite this, Smith’s form has dipped recently, which has resulted in him getting sent down to the minors. Even though he is back up for now, if he continues to underperform then Alonso may be forced to play first base and Davis or someone else will have to DH.
Help From Outside the Organization
If the Mets want to improve at DH, there are some options from outside the organization. Most recently, the Mets acquired Ender Inciarte, an MLB veteran who last played for the Atlanta Braves. Even though he gives them outfield depth, he could always be used at DH.
Looking elsewhere, the Mets could always swing a deal with the Washington Nationals. The Nationals are last in the NL East, a whopping 19 games behind the Mets. Having won the 2019 World Series, they are in a transitional position. As a result, they could be primed to trade some big names. The first name that comes to mind is Josh Bell, the 29-year-old first baseman. Even though he has not DH’d this year, he could replace Smith and platoon with Alonso. So far this year, Bell is hitting .319 with 11 home runs and 46 RBIs. Additionally, if the Mets want to go for a more seasoned veteran, they could always trade for Nelson Cruz. The veteran DH can still hit and could provide some experience if the Mets make it that far.
However, with a rotation and a bullpen in dire need of assistance, I foresee the Mets going in either of those directions once the trade deadline nears.
Help From Within the Organization
Even if the Mets do trade for pitching, their hopes for another DH are not lost. In fact, they have a couple of intriguing options from within the organization.
The first is Nick Plummer, who we have seen a little bit of already. In 29 at-bats with the Mets, Plummer hit two home runs and six RBIs before being sent back down to AAA. Despite the small sample size, he hit the ball hard and has a nice swing–which some people compared to that of Michael Conforto. If he can continue to improve in the minors, he could earn himself another call-up to the majors. In addition to DH, Plummer could provide some outfield depth.
More recently, however, a new option has arisen for the DH: prospect Francisco Álvarez. Álvarez, the 20-year-old catcher, is the Mets’ #1 overall prospect who currently plays for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies–the Mets’ AA affiliate. Even though he is still young, he is already making waves; he is currently hitting .278/.358/.561 with 18 home runs and 47 RBIs. Plus, to an extent, he is already getting some MLB action. Last night, he caught Max Scherzer in Scherzer’s second rehab start.
Even if Álvarez isn’t completely ready to take the catching responsibilities from James McCann and Tomás Nido, the DH would allow him to join the team and learn from his teammates. He could get MLB experience while learning from McCann and/or Nido. It would help ease him into the MLB without completely shocking him. To be honest, I would rather just see him stay in the minors to really help him grow. To me, the jump from AA baseball to MLB is a big one and, even if it were just DHing, I think Álvarez would be better off staying down there. There shouldn’t be a rush–Álvarez’s time will come.
What Should the Mets Do?
The Mets are at the top of the NL East, they have a great offense and they are winning games. Even though they are letting the Atlanta Braves get close, I still think they have a great team. Therefore, I don’t think it’s completely necessary for them to change anything with the DH. Platooning Pete Alonso and Dom Smith at first base has worked out fine so far and J.D. Davis has succeeded as a DH as well. When the season gets closer to the trade deadline, I think the Mets should prioritize pitching over anything else.
However, if they do decide to upgrade their offense, I think trading for Nelson Cruz would be their best bet. He is a seasoned veteran, having played in the MLB for over a decade. Plus, he has spent a good part of his career as a DH. If the Mets have aspirations to make a deep playoff run this year, Cruz might be their man; he would provide offense and experience at (what I could only imagine would be) a lower price. Someone like Josh Bell would cost more and would have to agree to platoon with Alonso. Maybe the Mets ship Smith to Nationals for one of their players? Maybe they ship him elsewhere for someone else? I love Smith but he has underperformed so far this season. Someone like Nick Plummer could also replace him.
In the end, I think the Mets are fine with their DH situation. The fluidity of having different players there allows all the players to get various degrees of playing time and rest. If the Mets decide otherwise, however, there are plenty of options for them to choose from.