NEW YORK — The Mets enter the month of May with the best record in the National League, lead Major League Baseball in hits and have the fourth-lowest earned run average of any team in the league.
Even with that strong start, a couple of the lockers in the clubhouse are going to get cleared out on Monday afternoon.
That’s because of MLB’s agreement with the players union after the 99-day lockout earlier this year. Citing health concerns from a shortened spring training, rosters were expanded to 28 players for the start of the season and would shrink back to a regular total of 26 on May 2.
“It’s certainly a topic that has been kicked around a lot, knowing there’s not an easy decision there,” said manager Buck Showalter on Sunday. “Nothing’s black and white.”
By Monday afternoon, two of the players on the Mets’ active roster will be sent back down to the minors. But who?
Reliever Sean Reid-Foley felt like a strong candidate for this after leading the team in walks among relievers and earning an ERA over five. However, news on Sunday complicated matters, as it was revealed that Reid-Foley has a partial tear of his UCL. Yoan Lopez, who was sent down earlier this week with the return of Taijuan Walker, is back up with the club.
So, which two players will be off the roster come Monday afternoon? It’s unclear, and checking which players have options remaining only complicates things further. Reid-Foley, who is now injured, was out of options and would have been designated for assignment, needing to clear waivers to head to the minors.
That is also the case for all but three current members of the Mets bullpen: Lopez, who was just recalled, Seth Lugo and Drew Smith. Any other member of the bullpen would have to be designated for assignment, and the Mets run the risk of having them claimed on waivers by another team.
Lopez feels like an obvious choice to head right back down with shrinking rosters, but who else will join him? Options exist for only five position players on the Mets: Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Dom Smith, JD Davis and Luis Guillorme. Alonso and McNeil will safely remain on the roster as key parts of the lineup, but the other three are all interesting. Would Davis, Smith or Guillorme be sent down to garner more at-bats in the minor leagues?
The other possibility would be to look at one of two bench players for the Mets and designate one for assignment. Travis Jankowski has fewer at-bats than any other position player this season, but he has proven to be valuable in the outfield and on the basepaths. The other name is Robinson Cano, who enters May with a .195 batting average and as many starts at second base (7) as Guillorme.
Cano is the most intriguing name here, as the 39-year old accounts for more than $20 million this season and has a full no-trade clause on his contract inherited from a trade with the Seattle Mariners. Attempting to designate Cano for assignment would not likely have teams claiming him and his hefty price tag from him.
The Mets opted to start Guillorme on Sunday instead of Cano, further adding to the intrigue of a potential move.
“It’s tough. And I’m very empathetic to that,” Showalter said of Cano’s limited playing time. “We’re trying to get [Guillorme] out there, and he hasn’t been out there in a while. You look at some of the matchups and we’re trying to win a baseball game tonight. You take in a lot of factors and what gives the New York Mets the best chance to win a baseball game that night is the tiebreaker, always.”
Could Cano refuse an assignment to the minors? Sure. Any player without options left who has more than three years of service time can elect for free agency. Cano’s contract is guaranteed, and it could result in the Mets having to pay the second baseman $20 million anyway.