As a Mets fan, it’s rare that we confidently come into a new season with legitimate hope. A couple weeks away from the return of Mets Hall Of Fame voices to call the first Spring Training game, I ventured back and rewatched a cinema classic - Major League.
The perfect parallel for the Mets’ infielders in 2023.
Any classic cinema thrives on character development, like watching Jimmy Dugan go from fall-down drunk to inspiring leader in “A League Of Their Own.” Yes, ‘inspiring leader’ is a stretch for someone who “could certainly use the money,” but the change is obvious.
The only character with obvious change in ‘Major League’ is Roger Dorn, the starting third baseman, downgraded upon his initial appearance by GM Charlie Donovan.
Forgot about Dorn, cause he's only high-priced. Picked him up as a free agent three years ago.
Jeff McNeil recently agreed to a four-year contract extension worth $50 million, exchanging his first two years of free agency for a dump truck full of money today.
He’s not made of stone.
There’s an underlying sentiment that the 30-year old coming off his first MLB batting title could have gotten more money on the open market. The mix between that opinion and approval of a team-friendly deal like those done in Atlanta can vary.
But it’s a dump truck full of money for an over-30 singles hitter who’s not far removed from hitting .251; a season average no one driving any truck for unless you add 40+ home runs.
There are never scenes to confirm it, but Roger Dorn had to be a power hitter. Manager Lou Brown asks Donovan if his 3rd baseman still hits the ball well and is informed he just can’t field it. Remember I mentioned growth and change?
Pete Alonso has grown into a better prospect than Dom Smith, despite the latter being a much better fielder at first base. Alonso’s 146 home runs in four seasons is why he’s next in line for a big payday; but the time and effort he’s put into his defense should be noted.
It’s not noted much, but one of the most memorable scenes happens after Lou Brown watches Dorn during spring practice fielding grounders. And fielding is an understatement.
“Get it front of the damn ball. Don’t give me this olé…”
We return to the duo a few moments later with Dorn asking for a moment. He forces his contract into Brown’s vision, talking about how he got injured last year and doesn’t intend to have that happen again.
Eduardo Escobar doesn’t intend to get injured again in 2023. But like Dorn, he’s about to be a free agent. Yes, the Mets have a club option for 2024 at $9 million for the glove-first third baseman who’s averaged over 25 home runs over the last three ‘full’ seasons. Lauded as a “versatile infielder” by Sports Illustrated less than 18 months ago, the 180-degree turn against Escobar is similar to what Brown does to Dorn’s contract.
Disappointing months at the plate to start 2021 overshadow his stellar defense. Mets management will look the 34-year old in his eyes and either move him at the trade deadline or pay him $500,000 at the end of the season and grant him his outright release. It appears there’s only one thing Escobar can do; win the job outright in Port St. Lucie and ensure Brett Baty and Mark Vientos each start the season in the minors somewhere.
There’s someone else on the infield I’ve yet to mention, mostly because the Mets already drove the dump truck in front of Francisco Lindor. It will stop by for roughly the next decade, annually dropping off $34.1 million. Is that a good deal? I’m asking because I seriously don’t know.
Dansby Swanson is three months younger than Mr. Smile, won a Gold Glove in 2022 and will receive roughly $27 million from the Cubs for the next six years. Trea Turner is five months older than Francisco and the Flithies will pay him $27 for the next 11 seasons. Luis Guillorme is only 28, won’t be a free agent until 2026 and will be paid $1.6 million this year.
I mention him here because regardless the offseason moves; he was likely to remain. When Rawlings added a Gold Glove for utility players last year, like many Mets fans, I expected Guillorme would receive praise for shining defensively around the diamond and being celebrated like Brown does to Dorn during the late-season run.
Despite finishing with just three errors during a career-high 102 games played, Guillermo didn’t receive a Utility nomination. Nothing more than Dorn’s visible bruises during the streak montage. Perhaps it was a lack of versatility since Lindor doesn’t come off the field (159 starts at SS in 2022).
The overall review for this infield is they’re good, both at the plate and defensively. But it’s not loved by the national press like in 1999 when John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordonez & Robin Ventura graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.
For readers who don’t remember when milkmen dropped off calcium door to door Sports Illustrated was a print magazine, a national weekly publication that was delivered to your door by a mailman. The Mailman used to deliver 25 points and 10 rebounds a game. Now they just drop off utility bills, credit card invitations and privacy statements from insurance companies.
There is some insurance for this team. Should Max Scherzer be lost, Tylor Megill can fill in like he did for Jacob deGrom. Injuries to the outfield means McNeil returning to left field. But there’s no replacement for Alonso.
His bat is the power source at the top of the lineup. His upbeat presence draws legions of reporters to his locker, an underrated skill while playing in this market. But should his skills diminish in any way, I don’t know what to think. Kind of like Ricky Vaughn when he sees Dorn at the end; will it be a punch in the face or an eventual celebratory hug?
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