To say that Darin Ruf’s tenure with the Mets has been less than stellar is probably the understatement of the century. Flipping the calendar to a new year hasn’t changed that much.
General manager Billy Eppler acquired Ruf at last year’s deadline to pair with Daniel Vogelbach as part of a designated hitter platoon. In just 74 plate appearances, he managed to post -0.9 fWAR with a .152/.216/.197 line, resulting in a 24 wRC+. His spring training got off to a late start after needing a cortisone injection in his wrist.
The right-handed hitter said it feels better, but is unsure how it’ll impact him and his play in the future. That play? It’s been quite uninspiring through his first bit of Grapefruit League action. In eight at-bats since getting back into the lineup, he’s hitless with just one walk and five strikeouts.
That ain’t gonna get it done. Especially with other younger players proving to be more effective at the dish so far this spring. But if we look at the Mets’ projected bench, Ruf is the only guy listed as Pete Alonso’s backup at first base.
Enter everyone’s favorite foodie, outfielder Mark Canha.
Manager Buck Showalter said last week he’d like to get Canha some reps at first base. While Alonso is with Team USA during the World Baseball Classic, finding opportunities to do that is much easier. That happened as recently as this past Friday against the Houston Astros. It also wasn’t the first time his spikes hit the infield dirt this spring.
Canha has racked up nearly 750 innings at first base in the big leagues. However, he hasn’t played a meaningful number of frames at that spot since 2019 with the Oakland Athletics.
What does all this mean? Especially with Alonso not in camp at the moment, you’d think Showalter will give Ruf an opportunity to show he can snap out of whatever prolonged funk he’s in. But, getting Canha some reps at first base shows New York is already preparing a potential exit strategy with the veteran.
The ideal scenario is for Alonso to play almost every day. He’s appeared in 150-plus games three times since debuting in 2019. But still, the Mets need some depth for that area of the roster. Canha can play that position, as can Eduardo Escobar and Mark Vientos (if he makes the big-league roster).
For New York to potentially fulfill those championship aspirations, they need a solid and dependable bench. Unfortunately (for both Ruf and the Mets), Ruf’s production has been a black hole. It’s not like he isn’t trying. It just seems like this isn’t working and maybe what’s needed is a change of scenery.
It’s like that famous quote from Van Wilder. Sometimes in life, you have to realize a poor investment and cut your losses. Write that down.
Ruf is due to make $3 million in 2023. For a Steve Cohen-led team with a payroll north of $350 million this season, it won’t be a problem to eat that salary by designating him for assignment. If his bat doesn’t show any signs of life soon, the Mets’ bench will be looking different than originally expected on Opening Day.
Matt Musico can be reached at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter: @mmusico8.