The universal designated hitter, enjoying its first season in the National League, was meant to give each NL team one more potent bat in the lineup.
Major League Baseball finally decided to eliminate the farce of pitchers trying to hit, injecting more life into every batting order. At least, in theory.
The Mets have gotten a collective .217/.295/.332 slash line from their designated hitters this season. They’ve posted an 85 wRC+ and -0.6 Wins Above Replacement. While it’s a much smaller sample size, last year Jacob deGrom had a 112 wRC+ and was worth 0.6 WAR just as a hitter.
With such a miserable sound coming from the DH’s bats, the Mets could obviously look for someone else to man the position. Orioles’ veteran Trey Mancini has hit at least 24 home runs in each of the last four seasons he’s played and has a mutual option with the O’s at the end of the year, something that is very rarely exercised. Mancini has been at the top of the speculation heap for the last few weeks, and Washington’s Josh Bell will draw a fair share of attention too thanks to his .304 average and expiring contract.
But further down the list of impending free agents is Brandon Drury. Having the best year of his life during his eighth tour of the major leagues, Drury is sure to be coveted. His Cincinnati Reds have the second-worst run differential in the National League and can make a serious bid for the first overall pick in the draft if they offload correctly. Drury isn’t just someone to flip for a player to be named later or a wagon full of cash, though.
The career utilityman has taken over as the Reds’ primary third baseman. He’s mashing .277 with a .333 on-base percentage and slugging .540, placing him behind only Rafael Devers, Jose Ramirez and Austin Riley among MLB third basemen. While Drury doesn’t walk — and never really has — the Mets’ group of designated hitters are getting on base at a sub-.300 clip. Pretty much everyone who will be available on the trade market is an upgrade from that.
J.D. Davis has taken the lion’s share of the Mets’ at-bats at DH. Second on the team is Pete Alonso, who isn’t part of the problem, but then you get into Dom Smith and Nick Plummer territory. At the very beginning of the season, which feels like eight lifetimes ago, it was Robinson Cano’s name regularly written next to DH. As much as the Mets have tried, it just isn’t working for Davis. He gets most of his looks when the opponent starts a left-handed pitcher. Davis is slashing .246/.338/.377 (.716 OPS) against those left-handed starters, who he’s started 33 games against and made 133 plate appearances entering Tuesday.
Drury, meanwhile, is lighting them up like a Christmas tree. He’s got a .308/.337/.670 (1.007) slash line against left-handed starting pitching. While it wasn’t long ago that Drury was struggling to crack the starting lineup for the 2021 Mets, this year in Cincinnati has done something to awaken him. The ball can’t stop finding his barrel, so much in fact that his barrel percentage has nearly doubled from last season to this one, and he now ranks in the 83rd percentile of the league in that category.
Adding Drury would also mean chances to give Eduardo Escobar some off days. Escobar is, by far, having the toughest year of any of the Mets’ regulars. Eight players on the team have gotten at least 200 plate appearances. Escobar is the only one with a wRC+ under 114, and it’s way down there at 85. The optimal Mets’ arrangement, should they re-acquire Drury, could be him at third base, do-no-wrong sensation Luis Guillorme at second base and All-Star Jeff McNeil at DH with Mark Canha in left field.
There’s certainly a lot to like in Drury’s numbers, even after acknowledging that he’s literally never been this good and the other shoe is bound to drop eventually. But the Mets are in the advantageous position of only needing a few good months out of anybody new. This is the season to focus on this year, as it’s quite obviously their best chance to make a big run since the 2015 fever dream. Rentals like Drury are exactly what the team should be looking for, as the current roster is very good on its own and should be improved in the short term before even beginning to look at the long-term outlook.
Also, with a few true blue superstars already in tow, plus All-Stars in McNeil and Starling Marte and a deserving All-Star in Brandon Nimmo, the Mets are in very good shape. They wouldn’t need Drury to be Yoenis Cespedes, they just need him to be Juan Uribe. After the Mets traded for Uribe during the 2015 season, he wasn’t spectacular, but he was above average at the plate. More importantly, the team went 41-24, going from a floater bobbing just above .500 to division winners and eventual NL champs.
There are, of course, a multitude of avenues for the Mets to explore outside of Drury. General manager Billy Eppler is assuredly already scouring each of those and coming up with backup plans to his backup plans in case things don’t go accordingly. But what the Mets have right now at DH would be an active detriment on a postseason roster.
Drury, who has brief playoff experience with Arizona and has already tasted the New York baseball atmosphere (he moonlighted for the Yankees in 2018 before his stint with the Mets), could wind up being the difference between another October to remember and one that sputters out early.