If Mets go internal at DH in 2023, here's who they should turn to




Brett Baty and Francisco Alvarez
Brett Baty and Francisco Alvarez  

The Mets and their fans are well aware of what happened last season at the DH spot.

There were the struggles of the original DH duo of J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith, the moderate success of Daniel Vogelbach (acquired near the trade deadline to be the lefty end of the DH platoon), and the spectacular failure of Darin Ruf (acquired at the deadline to be the righty end of the platoon).

The inability of Ruf to provide much of anything at the plate (he hit zero home runs in 74 plate appearances while slashing .152/.216/.197) led to the Mets basically auditioning Mark Vientos and Francisco Alvarez toward the end of the season.

But even after the Mets dealt with a DH situation in 2022 that was detrimental to their pursuit of the NL East title, which they failed to capture, they are prepared to rely on what they have in-house to fill the DH spot in 2023.

On Monday, shortly after news broke that first baseman/DH Jose Abreu was signing a three-year deal with the Houston Astros, SNY's Andy Martino reported that the Mets' "expectation" is to go internal at DH this coming season.

Of course, expectations can change.

Maybe the Mets miss on one or two of their top free agent targets and decide to sign or trade for someone who profiles as a DH.

Maybe they trade a player or two who is currently expected to be in the mix at DH, and the calculus shifts. 

Billy Eppler speaking to the media during Mets end of season news conference on Oct.
Billy Eppler speaking to the media during Mets end of season news conference on Oct.  

If not, here's what the Mets are likely looking at...

Their lineup most days in 2023 (as things are currently constructed) will usually include Pete Alonso at first base, Jeff McNeil at second base, Francisco Lindor at shortstop, Eduardo Escobar at third base, Starling Marte in one of the outfield spots, Mark Canha in another outfield spot, and one of James McCann, Tomas Nido, or Alvarez behind the plate.

The mystery here revolves around the future of free agent Brandon Nimmo.

If Nimmo is back, he'll be in center field, likely flanked by Marte and Canha, keeping McNeil at second base (instead of the outfield).

If Nimmo leaves, the Mets could shift Marte to center field and add a corner outfielder -- or they can move McNeil to a corner outfield spot and sign/trade for a new second baseman or third baseman (possibly sliding Escobar to second).

In any of the above scenarios, the Mets' DH would likely come from a group consisting of Vogelbach (whose option for 2023 was picked up), Alvarez, Vientos, and Brett Baty.

Ruf is still on the team and under contract for 2023, but it's very hard to envision him figuring into the Mets' plans. And it's close to impossible to make a case for it -- not when Ruf went the last three and a half months of the 2022 season without hitting a home run.

Darin Ruf
Darin Ruf  

So, who should the Mets rely on at DH if they do indeed go internal?

Maybe the Mets have one guy who serves as the DH most days, or maybe they split it between a handful of guys. But there's no reason to make it a straight platoon based on handedness.

Ideally, the Mets should be relying on hitters in the DH spot who can succeed against both righties and lefties -- although most will obviously have a bit more success against one over the other.

Having some positional versatility will also help, since these players will be on the bench on days when they're not the DH. Also important is power, which the Mets need more of, though GM Billy Eppler has been playing coy about whether the Mets will seek out more power or look to insert more of it into the lineup by better utilizing the players already on the team.

One of the main issues with Vogelbach and Ruf last season was that Vogelbach was so ineffective against lefties and Ruf was so ineffective against righties that the Mets were left with two bad choices every time an opposing team went to the bullpen and changed the handedness of their pitcher:

1. The Mets could pinch-hit for their DH, shorten their bench, and set up the same kind of issue for the next time the opposing team went to a different-handed reliever.

Or

2. The Mets could keep Vogelbach or Ruf in there, essentially giving up the at-bat.

To avoid the above this coming season, here's how the Mets should proceed...

New York Mets designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach (32) celebrates his solo home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the dugout with teammates during the fourth inning at Citi Field.
New York Mets designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach (32) celebrates his solo home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the dugout with teammates during the fourth inning at Citi Field.  

The case against Vogelbach

Before the Mets picked up Vogelbach's relatively inexpensive option for the 2023 season, I argued that it was a very easy call to bring him back.

At the same time, I explained why I felt it made sense for Vogelbach's role with the Mets to be mainly as a bench bat.

As a lefty off the bench, Vogelbach has serious value. He slashed .261/.382/.497 against right-handers last season, and hit all 18 of his home runs against them.

But as the long end of a DH platoon, Vogelbach -- as is noted above -- leaves a lot to be desired.

The main problem is that Vogelbach cannot hit lefties. He slashed .139/.262/.153 against them in 2022 and has slashed .136/.257/.227 against them during his career. As was touched on earlier, this means pinch-hitting for him or giving up at-bats if the opposing team brings a lefty in.

Oct 4, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez (50) talks to first base coach Wayne Kirby (54) in the dugout during the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.
Oct 4, 2022; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez (50) talks to first base coach Wayne Kirby (54) in the dugout during the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field.  

The case for the kids

Ideally, Alvarez will be the Mets' regular catcher and Baty will be their regular third baseman soon. Perhaps they both settle into those roles by the beginning of the 2024 season.

For 2023, it seems likely that Alvarez will be part of the big league club -- either right out of the gate or soon after Opening Day. And if Alvarez is in the majors, it's likely that he'll be spending some time behind the plate and some time at DH.

Even when the Mets are comfortable turning over the starting catching reins to Alvarez entirely, it will still make sense to DH him often in order to keep his legs fresh.

So in 2023, the right-handed Alvarez, who slugged .537 against lefties and 558 against righties last season for Double-A Binghamton -- where he spent most of the season -- should be the DH when he's not behind the plate.

Then there's the lefty-swinging Baty, who slugged .559 against righties and .486 against lefties last season for Binghamton, where he played 89 of his 95 minor league games.

On days when Alvarez is behind the plate and a righty is on the mound, Baty should be the DH. And there's a case to be made that Baty should be the DH when Alvarez is behind the plate even if a lefty is on the hill.

There's also a case to be made for Vientos getting some burn at the DH spot, but it's hard to see how he fits on the roster in a world where Vogelbach, Alvarez, and Baty are on it. And Alvarez and Baty should not just be on it -- they should be the main answers at DH as the Mets look to fix what was a huge issue in 2022.

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