David Stearns, Mets still without clear choice at third base and DH with spring training approaching

Weeks ahead of spring training, the Mets have no clear answers at third base and designated hitter.

Third base has been a tough spot for the Mets since about 2014 when David Wright’s back issues began. It’s important from a run-prevention perspective, but also from a run-producing perspective. Their lack of production from the DH, which became universal in 2022, was a glaring blemish on an unsightly 2023 season.

Last year, a rotating crew of designated hitters posted a .700 OPS, the 23rd-worst mark in the league. They did manage 27 home runs (11th in MLB) but they mattered little. Darin Ruf was cut before Opening Day. Daniel Vogelbach became a lightning rod for controversy. Tommy Pham was traded at the deadline.

And yet the Mets are not expected to make any splashy additions to either the third-base or DH groups. They may continue to make roster upgrades around the margins, but the club doesn’t view another position-player addition as “essential.” David Stearns was hesitant to close the door on another bat when he spoke to the media last week, but he made it clear that any other big-ticket acquisitions will be in the bullpen.

The Mets’ new baseball ops boss is prioritizing at-bats for Brett Baty and Mark Vientos. The third base competition right now is somewhat open, but without Ronny Mauricio, the Mets will turn to Brett Baty and Joey Wendle. The club hopes Baty, their first-round draft pick in 2019, locks it down with an improved sophomore season.

Baty and Vientos will see time at the hot corner with Wendle getting games there as well.

Vientos’ defense didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but his bat was a bright spot last year, showing more power with regular playing time.

His bat intrigues Stearns to the point that the Mets intend to use him at DH. How much he’ll DH is another discussion, and one the Mets have been having. At 24 with only 81 games of big league experience, defensive development should be a priority. This is not lost on the Mets, but it’s clear they see a lot of potential in his bat and want to capitalize.

This issue has already been debated this winter and it’s only going to heat up as these position battles heat up. Vientos was largely insulated from facing left-handed pitching, but the results were promising once the Mets loosened the reins. He hit .214 with 30 strikeouts in 88 plate appearances with two home runs and a .302 BaBIP, which would indicate some luck.

As a right-handed hitter, it would make sense to platoon him with left-handed DJ Stewart. Stewart earned a chance to compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster with 10 home runs and a .901 OPS over his last 35 games of the 2024 season. It once looked as though he would be the fourth outfielder, but the Mets traded for the versatile Tyrone Taylor and signed Harrison Bader to prevent runs in center. Even before those acquisitions, Stearns named Stewart as a DH candidate. He posted an OPS of .895 against right-handed pitching last season and hit 10 of his 11 homers off righties.

There is no easy answer for the Mets at DH. We’ll find out soon if their answer at third base is the right one. They’ve checked in on J.D. Davis and Justin Turner, but their level of interest doesn’t seem high. Rhys Hoskins is also still on the market. But then again, signing any of these veterans would take away at-bats from young players.

There is still power in the lineup with Francisco Alvarez, Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso and Brandon Nimmo. If Starling Marte and Jeff McNeil bounce back then the Mets should enjoy some solid run production. Plus, the option is always there to use Alvarez as a DH on days when Omar Narvaez starts behind the plate.

The lineup isn’t quite as top-heavy as it was last season, but questions remain about whether or not they have enough firepower to compete in the NL East. The argument could be made for another bat, but if the Mets don’t find the right one, they’re content to go with this group.