The New York Mets’ offense has been humming along, and it hasn’t even been at full strength yet. While Yoenis Cespedes remains a ways away from a return, the Mets are poised to get back one of their big free agent acquisitions soon. Infielder Jed Lowrie, who signed a two year deal worth $20 million over the winter, hasn’t played a game with the Mets yet after hurting his knee in spring training. The Mets have Lowrie out on a rehab assignment now, and he should be back soon, meaning the Mets have a decision to make to clear a spot for him on the roster.
On a typical day, the Mets’ bench features outfielder Juan Lagares and Keon Broxton, catcher Tomas Nido, and infielders J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith. Nido isn’t going anywhere as the backup catcher, while Lagares’ defense and reasonable production at the plate should help him stick. That means Lowrie will take the place of either Broxton, Davis, or Smith, which should be simple but is more complicated than it initially appears.
If you look at this decision in terms of pure production, the clear choice would be to demote Broxton, who is hitting just .146 with two RBI’s and has been worth -0.4 WAR over the first month of the season. Both Davis (.299/3/8/.890 OPS) and Smith (.357/0/4/.914 OPS entering play today) have produced off the bench, making them more valuable role players than Braxton, who is a bit redundant with Lagares on the roster.
The issue is that Broxton is out of minor league options, so the Mets would have to designate him for assignment and hope to get him through waivers. Brodie Van Wagenen parted with three minor leaguers to get Broxton from the Milwaukee Brewers over the winter, who has years of team control left and could be a potential long term replacement for Lagares. Waiving Broxton would effectively admit failure in that deal, and it may not be as simple as cutting Travis d’Arnaud, who only cost the Mets money and not prospects.
Both Davis and Smith have options remaining, but their play should allow them to stick on the big league roster. Smith is the only lefty on the Mets’ bench at the moment, so sending him down would leave the Mets down a valuable piece late in games. Davis could be the choice if the Mets don’t want to part with Broxton since he has options left and stands to lose the most playing time with Lowrie back, especially since Todd Frazier is also around to get at bats at third base. The Mets could justify the choice by having Davis go to the minor leagues to get more at bats in the outfield, building up his versatility for a return to the majors later in the year.
This situation will put a test to Van Wagenen’s mantra about carrying the best 25 players. Van Wagenen has been inconsistent with that philosophy, ignoring service time considerations to bring up Pete Alonso on Opening Day, which has worked out but also passing on potential upgrades to his rotation depth in favor of seemingly endless faith in Jason Vargas. How the Mets handle Lowrie’s situation will be worth monitoring, and it will say a lot about how Van Wagenen wants to build his team going forward.