Contextually, Jed Lowrie to the New York Mets does not make a lot of sense.
The team is flush with infielders, having already acquired Robinson Cano and J.D. Davis this offseason, in addition to 2018 holdovers Todd Frazier, Amed Rosario and Jeff McNeil. Not to mention, the club also has Dominic Smith, an infield/corner outfield type, and Peter Alonso, seemingly the future longterm answer at first base, at Triple-A.
So Lowrie to New York seemed to add to the logjam, not fix it. As Jay Jaffe at FanGraphs wrote yesterday:
Indeed, right now, it’s hard to make sense of how Van Wagenen and manager Mickey Callaway plan to piece this together. [...] I don’t know those answers, and right now, I’m not sure the Mets do, either. The fear is that they’re now overly stocked with infielders in their mid-30s who are cutting into the playing time of infielders and outfielders in their 20s, but it’s worth acknowledging that Opening Day is 2 1/2 months away (gah) and that this move probably means others are in store. Perhaps they trade Frazier in a salary dump, or deal Conforto for another young, controllable player who fits their lineup better.
I’m not here to reiterate Jaffe’s point entirely. Of course, Jaffe is right. It is true that the Mets will have to make moves to accommodate for this situation. The question, of course, is when. That is yet to be determined.
The point I want to establish, however, is that fit concerns are overblown.
At the end of the day, Lowrie’s “fit” will work itself out. On a two-year, $20 million contract, Lowrie was just too good to pass up. I wrote earlier this offseason about how Lowrie was a free agent bargain for any team, and those points still ring true today. Plus, I never expected Lowrie to sign for a deal this cheap.
Last season, Lowrie slashed .267/.353/.448 (122 wRC+, 121 DRC+) with 23 home runs and 99 RBIs. He was worth 4.9 fWAR across 680 plate appearances in 157 games. This value ranked Lowrie 20th in the Major Leagues.
While it is hard to expect a near-repeat of 2018, Lowrie is still expected to be a productive player. According to FanGraphs’ Depth Chart projections, which use Steamer projections but allot playing time from the FanGraphs staff, Lowrie projects to be worth 2.1 fWAR in 2019. This projection ties with him Rosario as the second-most valuable Mets infielder. While Lowrie might not fit perfectly, he makes the Mets a lot better.
That’s the lesson that needs to be learned here. Fit can sometimes work itself out. Looking at Roster Resource’s projection for the Mets’ 2019 Opening Day roster, Lowrie would play third base, alongside Frazier (first), Cano (second) and Rosario (short). McNeil and Davis would serve as super utility players.
The Dodgers serve as a great example. For years, their front office amassed talent without true fits. In 2018, the Dodgers were called by Ben Lindbergh as the “most positionally fluid team of all time.” The Dodgers amassed a total of 2,335 cumulative defensive appearances, the most in baseball and 12.3 percent more than the Mets’ 2,080, which ranked 25th. The Dodgers also had 365 total pinch hitter appearances, the most in baseball and 40.3 percent more than the Mets’ 258, which ranked 12th.
With Lowrie, the Mets now have a deeper, more talented roster. This allows them to make more defensive adjustments late in game, announce more pinch hitters and provide additional rest to their regulars. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With McNeil and Davis both serving as potential super utility options, the Mets would have a projected six capable infielders on their Opening Day roster—Cano, Davis, Frazier, Lowrie, McNeil and Rosario—as well as six outfielders—Keon Broxton, Michael Conforto, Davis, Juan Lagares, McNeil and Brandon Nimmo.
Of course, the Mets are still limited to 25 men on their roster, and that in and of itself poses potential problems. Alonso, for one, posted a 139 wRC+ across 301 plate appearances in Triple-A last season. He can’t stay in the minor leagues forever. After his service time situation has been worked out, he, too, will need a spot. This renders Jaffe’s initial point true; the Mets, at some point, will need to make a move.
But this circles back to a larger issue in baseball. Teams often claim that they are uninterested in a free agent because he does not “fit” the club. If the Mets are able to squeeze Jed Lowrie into a team with a gazillion infielders, teams shouldn’t be making this argument for a player like, say, Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. If the Mets can create fit for Lowrie, teams should undoubtedly be able to create fits for Harper or Machado. That’s a discussion for another time, however.
At the end of the day, the Mets are a better baseball team because of Jed Lowrie. That should be all that matters.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.