A number of teams have inquired about trading for New York Mets infielder/outfielder Jeff McNeil – should the Guardians be one of them?
As expected, the New York Mets have gone on a spending spree this offseason, already signing Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte and, of course, Max Scherzer. New York is also still in on Javier Baez potentially, which should push the Mets payroll near the absurd $300 million mark.
In this quickly revamped Mets lineup, one of the odd men out could be Jeff McNeil, who now appears available for a trade.
And the Cleveland Guardians should absolutely pounce on this.
McNeil had a down 2021 in which he hit .251/.319/.360 with seven home runs, 35 RBIs and a 93 wRC+ in 386 at-bats. To put it in perspective, McNeil had averaged .319/.383/.485 with a 137 wRC+ in the previous three seasons. His Statcast stats won’t necessarily blow you away, but he makes contact and maintains a beautiful strikeout percentage (he also had one Out Above Average), which is exactly what the Guardians are looking for.
And while that type of production is coming relatively cheap – he’s just now arbitration-eligible – it seems like his relationship with the Mets has been strained for a while now.
Remember that weird incident early last season between McNeil and shortstop Francisco Lindor in the Mets tunnel where they claimed they were arguing over the presence of a rat/raccoon/mutated creature? Well, everyone of course knows that was a lie, but according to a source, Lindor grabbed McNeil by the throat and pinned him against a wall during the altercation, which stemmed from weeks of buildup related to McNeil’s inability or unwillingness to adhere to the team’s defensive shifts.
McNeil had allegedly been benched previously by then-manager Luis Rojas because he wouldn’t get on board with the team’s shifting, and Lindor appeared visibly frustrated with McNeil at times. After the altercation, McNeil was soon injured and, once New York acquired Baez from the Chicago Cubs, McNeil was mostly playing left field the rest of the way as the Mets collapsed in the NL East race.
So if there was ever a situation where two parties just needed to go their separate ways, this might be it.
What would it take for the Guardians to acquire Jeff McNeil?
It does make sense for the Mets to make this move. Even after signing Scherzer, they still need rotation help now. But they could also go the route of the Los Angeles Dodgers, spending a zillion dollars while simultaneously stockpiling a talented farm system. The Guardians have a number of assets that could prove to be attractive to the Mets in both scenarios.
And for Cleveland, the 29-year-old McNeil isn’t a free agent until 2025, which checks the team’s eternal box of acquiring a player with years of control. Though for that amount of control, the asking price from the Mets is likely to be high. Would Eli Morgan and a pitching prospect or two do the trick? Probably not. What about Morgan, James Karinchak (we’re probably going to talk about trading Karinchak a lot, so get used to it) and a prospect? That might help, but hey, it wouldn’t hurt to see just how desperate New York is to get McNeil out of town.
Plus there is that sweet, sweet versatility that McNeil brings to the table. He could immediately slot in as the team’s second baseman (you know, if he actually doesn’t mind the occasional defensive shift) or he could fill one of the team’s worst deficiencies in the outfield.
As far as McNeil’s attitude goes, there is always more to the story. It seems fairly ridiculous that a major-league infielder would suddenly be fed up with the very concept of defensive shifts. We’ll probably never know the exact reason for how his relationship with the Mets fell apart, but if he could come to Cleveland for a decent-enough price and is ready for a clean slate, who cares what really went down?
Throw in a no-choking clause into his contract and he might just be a Guardian for life.