Todd Frazier gives the Mets consistency at third base, the likes of which they haven’t seen in years. On a budget, New York is better and deeper—and not as far from the playoff conversation as you might think.
Around and after the 2017 trade deadline, the floundering New York Mets dealt away chunks of the most successful core they’ve fielded since 2006. Part of their offload included Neil Walker, a key contributor to a playoff team in 2016, and Lucas Duda, an important component of a National League champion in 2015. At season’s end, Jose Reyes entered free agency, and about 260 games worth of starting infield was off the roster.
New York’s end of the year activity left behind a thin roster with a lot of holes. Room was made for touted prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, but both struggled in two-month cameos, while infield holdovers Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilmer Flores come with limitations that make the prospect of both becoming everyday players dicey. GM Sandy Alderson added Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Reyes to the mix, and the returning Jay Bruce will almost definitely see more time at first over the course of his contract.
But even with all the other infield deficiencies, the Mets have been without a permanent solution at third base for nearly half a decade now. The 5-spot in the infield has been absent an acceptable solution for too long. For all their other issues around the bags, third base remained alarmingly unattended to.
The Mets may have finally patched the corner crater.
Earlier this week, New York signed Tri-State’s own Todd Frazier to a very team-friendly two-year, $17 million contract. The third baseman moves across town from the Bronx to Queens and solidifies a position that’s been in flux since David Wright’s injuries left the spot in platoon purgatory.
Since signing, “great clubhouse guy” has been a popular label attached to Frazier. That kind of plaudit doesn’t say much about on-field production, but on a team with young guys, old guys on the decline, and considerable monetary uncertainty, a great clubhouse guy will only help.
Of course, he’s a good ballplayer, too.
Frazier, who will turn 32 in a few days, is a gifted power hitter who is seemingly well aware of his talent. He hit 27 home runs last season between stints with the White Sox and the Yankees, and his 47.5% fly ball rate was top-10 in baseball in 2017. As Fangraphs’ Travis Sawchik pointed out, Frazier also reduced his strikeout percentage from 2016, and increased his walk percentage year-to-year. Last season’s numbers profile him as an Alderson-type—home runs and walks are abundant on his stat line—and if he can continue to produce in a similar fashion, he’ll help the Mets immensely.
Frazier also brings two qualities sorely missing for the Mets: a good corner glove, and everyday consistency. New York ranked 29th in third base DRS last season and haven’t been inside the top-25 since 2014. Frazier, meanwhile, was a top-five player in DRS and UZR last season, and since his debut in 2011, he ranks seventh and ninth in both categories.
He’s dependable, a lineup card frequenter that new manager Mickey Callaway can almost certainly pencil in day in and day out. Frazier has played in 147 or more games in each of the last five seasons. He appeared in 133 games at third last season. The Mets, meanwhile, played eight guys at third last season, and no Met has played more than 60 games there since Wright in 2014.
Critically, Frazier’s contract is a deep discount for a team that’s famously cash-strapped. At $17 million, Frazier’s contract may be a product of the stagnant free agent market this winter and is a valuable asset in many ways. Should things go wrong during Frazier’s tenure at Citi Field, a two-year commitment made Frazier’s contract a valuable trade chip essentially from the moment the ink dried, and the Mets are mostly free of big money obligations as their talented crop of power arms nears the end of their arbitration years.
Under just about everyone’s radars, the Mets have added depth to their diamond. Not all depth is the same, and an infield rotation that includes Cabrera, Reyes and Gonzalez is insurance for injury and youth at best. Reyes and Gonzalez were negative bWAR players last season, and at their ages, it’s not expected that they’ll get better. Frazier, though, is a productive player the likes of which the Mets’ hot corner hasn’t seen since Wright’s last healthy season. With Frazier, Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce, New York has 75-90 home run muscle in the middle of their order, with Michael Conforto (if and when healthy) ready to break out ahead of the big bats. They’ll live and die on the long ball and health.
Bringing on Frazier makes the Mets better on a budget. Fangraphs projects them as a .500 ball club, but with a little luck and a lot of production from their new third baseman, the Mets might be in the playoff conversation a while longer than most think.
Khurram Kalim is a senior writer for Bronx to Bushville.