Mets Will Play Short Up the Middle to Add Mark Vientos’ Bat

In hopes of helping their struggling lineup the New York Mets are calling up Mark Vientos, while cutting their only backup middle infielder.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 28: Mark Vientos #27 of the New York Mets celebrates his walk-off two-run home run in the eleventh inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field on April 28, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Jeff McNeil got a day off to clear his head after what has been a rough stretch for him at the plate. Hopefully he enjoyed that time off his feet, because he is not going to be seeing much of it moving forward.

According to multiple reports, the New York Mets are set to promote Mark Vientos. In doing so, they are going to make a roster move that will leave them with just two middle infielders on their active roster for what could be an extended period of time.

The Mets just completed a homestand against their top two division rivals in which they won only one game and scored just 11 runs across five contests. Third baseman Brett Baty has been marred in a long slump, and has struggled greatly against left-handed pitching.

Adding Vientos gives Baty his ideal platoon partner at third base, but leaves the Mets empty-handed up the middle. With five outfielders and DH-only in J.D. Martinez, the only utility infielder the Mets had was Joey Wendle.

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Since Wendle is left-handed, and has not played well on either side of the ball this season, many assumed that the Mets would soon grab a right-handed utility infielder from their roster in Triple-A Syracuse.

Well today is reportedly the day where they will tap into Triple-A, but the right-handed infielder they are grabbing does not have the defensive versatility that we expected. Instead, he brings a powerful bat, which could be exactly what the Mets need right now.

Why This is the Right Time for Mark Vientos

It is not been an easy year to be Mark Vientos. After spending most of spring training looking like the favorite to be the Mets primary DH in 2024, Vientos was thrown a curveball at the 11th hour when J.D. Martinez signed a one-year deal to come to New York.

Martinez would effectively fill the exact role that was envisioned for Vientos, relegating him back to Triple-A. There was some runway for Vientos to make the roster at the start of the season while Martinez was still ramping up, but the thought was that he would be up in short order.

Instead of Vientos, the Mets choose to roster both Joey Wendle and Zack Short, prioritizing their defensive versatility, while giving DJ Stewart the primary DH role to start the season. This decision put an emphasis on roster flexibility, as Wendle and Short did not have options, and Stewart could serve as the Martinez placeholder while Vientos got to play everyday in Triple-A.

Martinez’s absence ended up lasting much longer than anyone expected, but with the Mets went 12-3 after an 0-5 start to their season. DJ Stewart performed well in the strong side of a DH platoon against right-handed pitching, while the Mets used the other side of the platoon to keep all their guys fresh, particularly Brandon Nimmo and Starling Marte.

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When Martinez joined the roster, Zack Short was the first casualty, as the Mets prioritized Stewart’s offense over the need to have a right-handed reserve infielder.

Vientos did not get his first chance to crack the big league roster until Marte spent three days on the bereavement list at the end of April, giving the 24-year-old a short cameo to make an impression.

And make an impression he did.

Against the Cardinals, Vientos went 3-for-4 coming off the bench, including that massive two-run walk-off homer. In both games, Baty got the start at third but was pulled in favor of Vientos late in a close game with a lefty reliever on the mound. It was a very short stint, but Vientos proved he could thrive in such a role and the Mets would be a better offensive team for it.

The problem is that Vientos can only play the corners in the infield, and isn’t highly-regarded for his defense (something he has been working on in Triple-A). When Marte was eligible to return off of bereavement, Vientos went down, as the Mets prioritized having a utility infielder on the roster who could back up shortstop and second base.

With the news that Vientos is coming up to replace Joey Wendle, the Mets are now looking to prioritize their offense instead, bringing up the bat-first player and leaving both Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil without a backup (more on that later).

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Perfect Platoon Partner for Brett Baty…For Now

While Wendle is the player getting cut from the roster, Brett Baty is the one that really necessitated the move. Sure, Wendle did not perform in his limited playing time, but this is more about Baty’s struggles offensively than anything else.

The Mets former top prospect has been given the runway to start nearly everyday this season and it has been a mixed bag. On one hand, he has showed tremendous strides defensively, as he has been a positive value player with his glove alone (0.5 fWAR, 2 OAA). The bat on the other hand has been a different story.

Baty is hitting just .230/.292/.317 on the season, with three home runs in 138 plate appearances. In the month of May, Baty has gone 7-for-40, with most of his production coming in a two-HR game against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 3rd. Since then, he has gone three for his last 30.

While Baty’s struggles are not reserved to left-handed pitching, it has been a problem for him so far in 2024. Baty is hitting just .175 with a .476 OPS against southpaws.

Vientos has meanwhile hit .360/.429/.840, with three home runs in 25 at-bats against left-handed pitching in Triple-A. With the Mets set to face Ranger Suarez on Wednesday, who Vientos homered off on last season, and a Marlins pitching staff that is filled with lefties, now was the time to make the call.

Moving forward though, this audition could mean much more for Vientos.

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This is a former top prospect who is coming up on 200 games played in Triple-A over parts of the last three seasons. Vientos wants nothing more than to make this a lot more than a cup of coffee and he will get every opportunity to do so.

While he will need to prove that his offensive prowess can translate at the big league level, the bigger test is how he can hold his own defensively. If Vientos shows that he can handle the position, and Baty does not snap out of his struggles, there is every chance that it is Baty who gets demoted whenever the Mets inevitably call onto Syracuse for a more traditional utility infielder.

Or who knows, maybe the platoon of Baty and Vientos will be so successful that the Mets will stay with this look for the rest of the season.

Can Lindor and McNeil Play Without Backups?

In today’s game we are seeing more and more players enter the league with positional flexibility, so it is rare that a team does not have at least two options at each position on their roster.

The one exception can be shortstop, and even then there is usually a backup second baseman on the roster that can give you a decent shortstop impression in a pinch when you need one. The Mets are entering a stretch now where there will be no contigency plan behind Francisco Lindor at shortstop.

Vientos was once drafted as a shortstop out of high school, but he has not played the position since Rookie Ball back in 2017 and for good reason. Jeff McNeil is probably the Mets emergency shortstop moving forward, but if he ever has to play there, who’s backing him up at second?

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Now, if you head to the ballpark early enough on the Mets road trip, you might see Baty, Vientos, or maybe even a surprise on the roster (Omar Naraez has two career innings played at 2B!) taking some grounders on the right side of the infield just in case.

Really though, the Mets are telling us that Lindor and McNeil will be playing together up the middle for every pitch for the foreseeable future. This is nothing new to Lindor, who has missed three games total since 2022. For McNeil however, this is a change of pace.

Ever since 2019, McNeil has been the Mets super utility player. He played every position but catcher last year, although he primarily played at second base or in a corner spot in the outfield.

With the Mets having five outfielders on the roster, McNeil has been seeing more time on the dirt than the grass this year, and now he will exclusively be a second baseman for the first time since his rookie season back in 2018.

Like Baty, McNeil has really struggled with the bat this season (.621 OPS), but the Mets aren’t going to pull the rip-cord on the former batting champ any time soon. Maybe the comfort of knowing the Mets have no choice but to pen him into the lineup each day will break him out of his early-season funk.

New York Mets Are Playing Into Their Strengths

When watching the Mets play against the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies across this past homestand, it is clear they aren’t on the same level as the top teams in the NL East. With that said, the Mets have played those teams tight in the early goings, where their offensive has been the thing that has consistently held them back.

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A platoon of Mark Vientos and Brett Baty makes the Mets a considerably better offensive team, and will have a far greater impact than Joey Wendle ever could. The risk comes in not having the ability to give their double play combination a breather at any point in time, but that is another area of strength the Mets are leaning into.

Lindor and McNeil are both players who have been durable that want to be put into the lineup every single day. It might not be sustainable to expect them to do this for the rest of the season, but for a period of time when the Mets are still trying to find their winning combination, this a prudent move by David Stearns and the front office to get answers they need for a team that is grasping for them.