With no everyday role open for J.D. Davis, the New York Mets need to figure out how to handle one of their best young hitters.
The New York Mets have a J.D. Davis problem. They have no place for one of their best young players to play in 2020. He’s blocked in left field by Yoenis Cespedes, and at third base by Jeff McNeil.
So what are the Mets supposed to do?
It’s the question that has plagued them all offseason. Davis was the subject of a number of trade rumors this offseason. In the latest rumor, Davis was the center of a potential Mookie Betts trade. That shows how highly the Mets think of Davis.
After joining the team in a trade most ignored in 2019, Davis became an offensive force. Davis’s 136 wRC+ ranked 20th in major league baseball. That’s tied with stars such as Marcus Semien, Jorge Soler, and New York Yankees‘ MVP candidate DJ LeMahieu. It’s better than Mookie Betts and Kris Bryant put up in 2019.
He was arguably an elite offensive force. Yet, he was still third on the New York Mets behind Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso. McNeil and Alonso both had a 143 wRC+. That ties them for 10th in MLB. That speaks to the level of talent blocking Davis from getting playing time at his best defensive positions.
As long as Jeff McNeil is playing third base it’s hard to make an argument for Davis to get playing time there. He can’t move over to first base because Alonso is MLB’s premier power hitter.
There’s only one real place that J.D. Davis could get playing time, left field. That’s where he’ll be battling for a spot in spring training, a battle he’s almost certain to lose.
Spring Training battle
J.D. Davis is going to battle Yoenis Cespedes for playing time in spring training. In reality, it’s more a battle of Davis versus Cespedes’s health.
Yoenis Cespedes is an elite offensive player. Even when he was playing injured in 2017 and 2018 Cespedes was still putting up numbers similar to those Davis put up in 2019.
Cespedes is also a better fielder in left field, at least he was when he was healthy. It’s easy to forget, but Cespedes won a gold glove in 2015. He’s was a strong fielder in left field.
Davis is an awful outfielder. He graded out as one of the worst defensive outfielders in all of baseball in 2019 by OAA. That’s a huge negative for him.
None of this even mentions that Cespedes is set to make at least $9 million this season, even after his contract was restructured. That’s quite the incentive for Luis Rojas, to put him on the field as often as possible.
Cespedes has looked fully healthy in spring training so far. That said, he hasn’t played in a game yet. The double heel surgery that Cespedes had in 2018 that cost him most of his season before he broke his ankle, has ended careers before.
Most notably the surgery ended Troy Tulowitzki’s career. Cespedes doesn’t play a defensive position that requires the same quick-twitch athletic ability, but a loss of speed and reaction time would be devastating to his defense.
If Cespedes is a worse defender now then he was the last time he played in a game, that cracks the door open for Davis. If the surgery sapped him of his power and his bat speed he basically becomes a useless player.
There haven’t been any reports that suggest any of that is true yet, but again no games have been played. Cespedes’s health is going to be a key storyline throughout spring training. It’s something Davis will have his eyes on every day from now until the Opening day.
If Cespedes shows a significant drop in ability, Davis will have a regular spot in the lineup. If not, Davis will be back in the same role he was in on Opening Day in 2019.
He’ll be waiting for someone to slip up or get injured so he can take their spot. Whether that’s Cespedes, Robinson Cano or Jeff McNeil, Davis is just biding his time until he gets his inevitable shot in the starting lineup.
Looking to the future
It’s impossible to know what the New York Mets are going to do in the future. That’s especially true with the team potentially being sold before the offseason comes. That said, Davis should have an everyday role in 2021.
Yoenis Cespedes’s contract is up at the end of the year. Even if he has a spectacular return year it’s very unlikely he’s back in 2021. The Mets aren’t likely looking to give a 35-year-old outfielder the kind of contract he’ll want if he has a big enough year to earn a new contract.
That means that there’ll be an opening in left field. That’s likely going to be Davis’s regular spot for the rest of his contract. Davis is under contract for another four years after this one.
Considering his offensive potential, it’s hard to imagine the team will want to keep him on the bench in the future. That’s especially true if he continues his offensive production in 2020.
It’s possible the Mets look to address the outfield in the offseason after 2020. If they do, it’s likely because their new owners are looking to add Mookie Betts, a move that the Mets were rumored to have interest in after news of Steve Cohen‘s bid broke.
If that happens, it’s hard to see Davis still being on the team in 2021. A Betts signing would likely mean the end of Davis’s Mets tenure. After two strong years, even if they were mostly off the bench, Davis’s trade value would be sky-high.
In that very unlikely scenario, as it stands, Davis would almost certainly be traded.
The New York Mets really only have two options for Davis going into the future. They can either play him and see what happens, or they can trade him and revamp their farm system.
Based on the available knowledge, it’s likely J.D. Davis will have a regular spot in the lineup starting in 2021.