Mickey Callaway said Monday that Todd Frazier, who has been out since late-February due to a strained oblique, will begin a rehab assignment later this week.
Meanwhile, Jed Lowrie (knee) recently began fielding ground balls and swinging a bat from both sides of the plate, though he as yet to be cleared to run at full speed. Lowrie has been idle most of the spring as he continues to deal with a capsule sprain in his left knee.
If I'm guessing, I'd say Frazier will be back next week, while Lowrie remains out through most of April.
In time, though, once Frazier and Lowrie return, the Mets will need shuffle playing time around the diamond and force Callaway and GM Brodie Van Wagenen to make some difficult decisions about the overall roster and daily lineup construction.
That said, regardless of who is back or when they return, Jeff McNeil has proven he has to be in the lineup on a daily basis. McNeil, 26, hit .329 with a .381 OBP in 63 games last year and is 5 for 11 with three RBI to start this season. Callaway likes McNeil, hypes him up when talking to reporters, and clearly intends to have him play.
With that in mind, here are three likely scenarios for when Frazier and then Lowrie return to the roster...
Frazier returns and plays 3B, J.D. Davis to bench, Jeff McNeil to LF...
It's assumed Frazier will resume playing every day at third base, which he has called home during most of the past decade. As a result, the easiest and most obvious reaction to him being back will be to put McNeil every day in left field, while returning to Davis to being a fill-in player off the bench.
However, Frazier hit just .219 with 18 home runs and 59 RBI in 115 games last year. According to most projection systems, he is expected to put up similar numbers in 2019. In other words, Frazier will be given the opportunity to again plant a flag at third, but his time at the hot corner could be in question when Lowrie is ready to be activated.
Lowrie returns, McNeil stays in LF, Frazier loses playing time...
Lowrie has mostly played second base during his career, but is expected to play multiple positions on the infield for the Mets this season. There will be days he fills in for Robinson Cano at second and he may even get some starts at shortstop or first base. However, my hunch is he'll get more time at third base, which will marginalize Frazier and likely result in a position player being cut or demoted to Triple-A.
A young first baseman is demoted when both Frazier and Lowrie are back...
The Mets are currently carrying 12 pitchers and five position players on the bench, which is the common balance around MLB. Therefore, it's more than likely a position player will be dropped when Frazier or Lowrie are back on the roster (assuming no other position player is injured).
In the event Van Wagenen wants to delay having to make a decision about the bench, he could trim Callaway's bullpen to just 11 pitchers. The fact is, to date, the Mets have used their relievers in fewer innings than most teams. If that trend continues, Van Wagenen could go short in the 'pen and have Callaway use a six-man bench, while waiting to see if a position player gets injured or struggles and makes it an easy decision.
If that doesn't happen, though, and Van Wagenen decides a position player must get the axe, it's most likely going to fall on rookie Pete Alonso or Dominic Smith. The two young men only play first base, but that position can also be played by Cano, Frazier and Lowrie, each of whom Callaway will probably want in the lineup. And the Mets are not planning at this point to give Smith any time in left field.
To date, Smith has played in all four games this season, but in each one he came in off the bench. Alonso, on the other hand, has so far started every game, during which he's batting .412 with four extra base hits and six RBI. On Tuesday night, Alonso sits while Smith gets the start at first base.
It would be awesome, but there is no way Alonso is ending this season with 243 RBI, 162 extra base hits and 12 WAR, which is his current pace. However, based on his minor league career and what he's done for the Mets in four games, it is possible he stays on pace to hit just under 40 home runs. The point is, if Pete continues hitting and if Van Wagenen must choose between the two, Smith should get bumped.
The only way Smith sticks and Alonso is sent to Triple-A is if Alonso steps in to a terrible slump or another infielder is put on the injured list. Otherwise, the Bam Bam Era is upon us.
What will Callaway's lineup be?
It's quite clear at this point that Callaway is loving Brandon Nimmo in the leadoff spot, Alonso batting second (where he's thriving), Cano hitting third, Michael Conforto batting cleanup, followed by Wilson Ramos and McNeil. Given their production and Frazier's recent history, I don't see any way he interrupts the above grouping.
Callaway did, however, spend all winter saying he envisioned Lowrie batting toward the top of his lineup. Therefore, in the event Alonso remains hot and Callaway wants him continuing to bat in front of Cano, the easiest solution would be sticking Lowrie behind Nimmo, while bumping everyone else down a slot.
Callaway could also keep his lineup as it has been and drop Lowrie to eighth, which would give him a consistent, fundamentally-sound hitter in front of his pitcher. By the way, Nimmo followed in order by Lowrie, Alonso, Cano, Conforto, Ramos and McNeil is one of the better first-seven in the National League. The group, which has an old school 80's vibe, is balanced, includes one switch hitter, they all work counts, can hit to the opposite field and they all have at least a bit of power.
The days when Frazier gets a start, he should jump in to the bottom third with everyone moving up a spot. The same can be said for when Ramos gets a break and the backup catcher gets the start.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!