On Tuesday, April 10th, the New York Mets sent back up outfielder Brandon Nimmo down to their triple A affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s. Immediately, social media was set on fire, by Mets fans not happy with the move.
Listening to Mets manager Mickey Callaway speak, this move was not surprising. Callaway mentioned, from the time he became Mets manager, that he likes to have a 13 man pitching staff, and, as a result, a four man bench.
A four man bench seems to be the popular trend in today’s Major League Baseball. The reliance on the bullpen is so great today, most teams feel the need to have that extra arm in the bullpen. Some American League teams are going with a 14 man pitching staff, leaving only the back up catcher, and two extra players on the bench.
This move, however, is a positive one, as it helps Brandon Nimmo’s development. At 25 years old, Nimmo needs to play every day. No amount of batting practice or hitting in the batting cages can replicate live pitching, let alone live major league pitching. As a back up outfielder (whether that is the forth or fifth outfielder), Nimmo would get maybe five to seven at bats a week. He might start against a tough righty, or in a day game after a night game. He certainly would not see much playing time. Playing in Las Vegas allows Nimmo to play every day, and grow as a player.
Many fans feel that Mets outfielder Juan Lagares should be shipped out instead. Lagares is out of minor league options, and cannot be sent to he minors, unless he agrees. That still does not open every day playing time for Nimmo.
The Mets know what they have in Lagares. He is on the Mets for one reason: his defense. Juan Lagares is an elite defender, winning the gold glove in 2014. Playing in only 94 games last season, Lagares was credited with 10 defensive runs saved. As an elite defender any offense Juan brings, is secondary. At 29 years old, Lagares, no matter how improved his new swing becomes, is still not going to surprise anyone with his bat.
While Brandon Nimmo needs to play everyday to continue his development, Juan Lagares does not. Again, he is on the Mets for his world class defense, not his bat. It makes little difference if he only gets a handful of at bats each week.
Another option, one that would open more playing time with the Mets for Nimmo, is to move outfielder Jay Bruce to first base.
Jay Bruce signed a three year, $39 million contract in the off season. He did not sign to play first base. He is on record as telling management that he does not feel comfortable playing first on a regular bases. When interviewed by television network SNY, the day before the regular season, Bruce mentioned how he did not even bring a first base glove to spring training.
Bruce could play first base as a temporary measure, to give Nimmo more playing time. Infield defense was a major issue for the Mets in 2017. They were the worst defensive team in the league, with the infield being he leading cause of this. While Adrian Gonzalez might not be the feared hitter he once was, his glove work still plays a vital roll. Giving Bruce first base, weakens the infield defense.
If Gonzales gets injured, Bruce could fill in at first base. This is not a long term solution to opening playing time for Nimmo though. Two of the New York Mets top prospects, Dominic Smith and Peter Alonzo, both play first base. Baseball America named Alonzo the seventh best prospect-and the one closest to being major league ready- at first base, entering the 2018 season. Smith was on the list last season. In order for Bruce to finish out his contract at first base, the Mets would need to trade two of their top prospects. It is hard to see a situation like that taking place.
There are other trade possibilities that could open more playing time for Brandon Nimmo. The best solution might be rather unpopular with many Mets fans.
The New York Mets could trade Juan Lagares. This plan has flaws as well. Right now, Lagares is the forth outfielder. The Mets would still need to move Bruce to first base to open a spot for Nimmo. Trading the best outfield defender, and moving Bruce to first base, is a huge hit to he team’s defense.
The other flaw is the contract of Juan Lagares. When the Mets signed him to the extension, it made sense. Juan was just coming off his gold glove season, and seemed entrenched in centerfield. Then the injuries hit Lagares. The climate for free agent contracts has also changed dramatically this past off season.
Juan Lagares makes $5 million in 2018, and $9 million in 2019. At the time he signed, it made sense for both sides. Now, he looks extremely over paid. Curtis Granderson signed a one year deal for $2 million this off season. The two posted similar WAR numbers last year.
Looking around at recent free agent signings, and recent trades, it seems very doubtful the Mets would get much value trading Juan Lagares. Teams just do not want to give up much for players with a high salary, and only a few years left on the contract. It is not about the talent level of Lagares. His contract makes him less valuable to teams across baseball.
Similar players have returned one or two older double A players. The Mets had trouble finding trade partners for players like Bruce, Granderson and Addison Reed last season.
The best option-and possibly the option that would be least popular with some Mets fans, is to trade Brandon Nimmo himself.
Again, taking a look around the league at recent deals, signings and trades, teams want younger players. Players under affordable contracts, with years of team control. Team control seems to be one of the big catch phrases you hear a lot lately.
Brandon Nimmo will not be a free agent until 2023. He has already shown he can handle major league pitching. All things that Mets fans love about him, make him that much more valuable to other teams.
The last young, top prospect the Mets dealt was Michael Fulmer, in 2015, for Yoenis Cespedes. That trade worked out well for both parties. The Mets went on to the World Series that year. Fulmer won rookie of the year in 2016.
It is possible the Mets could pull off another trade deadline deal like that one, this year, using Brandan Nimmo as the center piece.
There are top player across baseball set to become free agents at the end of this season. Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado and Mike Moustakas are all available targets. These are all impact players. Stars. MVPs. Donaldson or Machado would make the Mets offense one of the best offenses in baseball. That offense, combined with a healthy and effective pitching staff, could mean a very special season for the Mets, this year.
Young players under team control, with proven success at the major league level, seem to be the most sought after players.
It would be great to see Brandan Nimmo play full time for the Mets.
It would be even better to see the Mets in the World Series again.