Never judge a book by its cover. That’s an old saying but one that has some relevance for the 2021 New York Mets.
It has been no secret that this season has been one that has been filled with injuries for the team. That has led the organization to make some interesting and unusual personnel decisions and has led to some unusual names on the current 26-man roster. Yet, the team continues to play well and stay in first place in the National League East. After Sunday’s 6-2 victory over the San Diego Padres the New York Mets have a record of 29-23 and currently hold a 3.5 game lead over the Atlanta Braves.
A lot of the recent success can be contributed to the players who no one expected to be on the roster at the beginning of the year. The Mets fan base has given those players the name of “The ReplaceMets.” These ReplaceMets are only expected to be in the lineup for a short time and will likely be replaced by the players who are currently on the Injured List (IL). One of the players who could be considered as a “ReplaceMet” is outfielder Billy McKinney. McKinney was a key contributor in Sunday’s victory, with two hits, an RBI, a stolen base and run scored. He’s been in the middle of everything since joining the Mets and has put himself in the conversation to have a roster spot, even when the Mets get healthy.
McKinney has had an interesting professional career so far and one where he has been a key figure in several trades. He was a 1st round pick for the Oakland Athletics in the 2013 MLB Draft. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs in July of 2014. In July of 2016 McKinney was traded again, this time from the Cubs to the New York Yankees in the deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs.
As a Yankee, McKinney made his big-league debut on March 30, 2018. He was traded again this time being a key piece in the trade that netted the Yankees pitcher J.A. Happ from the Toronto Blue Jays.
McKinney played 122 games in Toronto with 18 HRs and 41 RBIs and a batting average of .230. He had an OPS of .730 in Toronto. He played just a little over two years with the Blue Jays before being placed on waivers. He was claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers in September of 2020.
McKinney began the 2021 season in Milwaukee playing 40 games for the team with three homers and six RBIs. He was batting .217 when he was Designated for Assignment (DFA) in May.
The Mets worked out a trade with the Brewers to get McKinney after a rash of injuries occurred in the outfield. Officially the trade was completed on May 26 and the Mets sent 17-year-old pitcher Pedro Quintana to the Brewers.
At the time, the Mets were desperate for outfield help. One of the “ReplaceMets”, Johneshwy Fargas, just went on the IL and Cameron Maybin, another outfield the Mets acquired during the season, was not hitting at all. Maybin’s went go 1-28 as a Met this season before the club DFA’d him shortly after acquiring McKinney.
The trade for McKinney was an interesting one as the Mets took a shot on a guy who has a ton of talent but had yet to put it all together at the big-league level. Teams loved McKinney’s metrics, particularly his exit velocity but the results hadn’t backed up those numbers.
Since joining the Mets, however, McKinney has flourished and has proven he should be on the roster even when the Mets regulars get healthy. In his ten games with the club he has batted .242 with 2 HRs, 6 RBIs and his OPS as a Met is .900. He has played all three outfield positions at a high level. He’s got a good arm and has some speed. There have been countless examples of McKinney having big at bats or making a great play in the outfield, either by his arm or by tracking a ball down that had no business being caught. He has also stolen a couple of bases as a Met, providing the team with much needed speed on the base paths.
As the Mets continue to get healthy, a decision will have to be made about McKinney’s roster spot. The Mets currently have four outfielders on the IL. They are Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, Albert Almora, and Johneshwy Fargas.
You have to assume that both Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto will be back on the 26-man roster when they get healthy. Fargas was a career minor leaguer before he was called up due to injuries. When Fargas is healthy, there’s little doubt in my mind he will return to AAA. I believe the last outfield spot on the roster will come down to Albert Almora and Billy McKinney, when and if everyone in the outfield is healthy.
You have to keep McKinney on this roster, even if it’s at the expense of Albert Almora. Almora is a tremendous defensive outfielder but he was batting just .048 before he got hurt. McKinney’s time as a Met has been short but he’s shown enough to believe in his potential. He brings a unique versatility to the Mets in the outfield where he can play all three positions solidly. He also provides some pop which is something Almora cannot do. Offensively, he is a much better player than Almora. It’s not even close.
McKinney is more than just a “ReplaceMet”. He has proven that in his first ten games and he should stay on this team even when everyone else gets healthy. The trade for McKinney has paid huge dividends already and will continue to do so as the season moves on. You can’t let him get away when everyone gets healthy.