Mets’ third base competition on with Manny Machado off board

PORT ST. LUCIE — The starry options have begun to evaporate. 

Carlos Correa, willing to move to third on a 10-year, $315 million deal, instead failed a Mets physical and returned to shortstop and the Twins. Manny Machado, who seemed as if he would spend this year metaphorically being sized for a Mets uniform, instead has agreed to an 11-year, $350 million contract with the Padres, it was publicly revealed Sunday. 

Obviously, a lot can happen between now and the offseason. Would another underachieving season motivate the Twins, for example, to consider trading Correa and the final five years of his contract? With Machado off the board, Toronto’s Matt Chapman becomes the best third baseman entering his walk year. 

But after being associated with proven mega-watt talents to plug long term into the hot corner beginning this year (Correa) or next (Machado), the Mets’ future prospects at the position look more tied to, well, prospects. 

The favorite is Brett Baty. Ronny Mauricio is a toolshed of talent. And the Mets have not quite given up on Mark Vientos owing to continuing curiosity about a bat with the potential for impact. All three likely will begin the season at Triple-A. Because as Francisco Lindor made clear when asked about the future of the position, “Brett Baty is going to be really, really good. My third baseman right now is [Eduardo] Escobar.” 

Escobar is signed for $9.5 million and has a 2024 club option for $9 million. He was fine last year and a better player than he showed. But the Mets were willing to displace him. Of course, that was for Carlos Correa. The Mets are not ready to do this for an unproven entity. … Yet. 

Eduardo Escobar
Eduardo Escobar will likely begin the season as the starting third baseman.
Corey Sipkin for NY Post

But the Mets lineup could use upgrading after a top five of Brandon Nimmo, Starling Marte, Lindor, Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil. Ideally, they would insert more power to protect Alonso with McNeil dropping down a spot. The Mets closest to being considered major league ready — Baty, Mauricio, Vientos and Francisco Alvarez — leave the organization with little doubt about their bats — and that power will be part of the portfolio. 

For example — keeping in mind that this is early in spring training — the lefty Baty scorched two opposite-gap doubles in an intrasquad game Friday and a homer to center in the Mets’ exhibition opener against the Astros on Saturday. The switch-hitting Mauricio, batting lefty, creamed a 450-foot homer Sunday against the Nationals. At 110 mph it was the hardest hit ball of a 6-3 Mets victory. The second was a 109.8 mph double by Vientos, whose pop is part of the early spring buzz within the Mets. 

The question is whether they all can stay at their current position. There is defensive uncertainty about Alvarez at catcher, plus Baty and Vientos at third. Mauricio, who looks more middle linebacker than middle infielder, might just outgrow shortstop. Which is not bad because he mentioned that with Lindor signed for nine more years, he will “have to play a different position” to play for the Mets. He said his preference is third — a position he manned a bit in winning the Dominican Winter League MVP. 

Lindor, GM Billy Eppler and bench coach Eric Chavez — once an elite defensive third baseman — all mentioned how the potential future third basemen had improved footwork this year and, thus, were moving better laterally and with more explosive initial steps. 

Brett Baty
Brett Baty is the Mets’ No. 2 prospect.
Corey Sipkin for NY Post

Mark Vientos
Mark Vientos wouldl be an intriguing dark-horse in the Mets’ third base competition.
Corey Sipkin for NY Post

Still, Eppler said Baty will not be a part-timer in the majors. Thus, he will be the Triple-A third baseman. That gives him the pole position as first in line behind Escobar because the plan for now is to keep Mauricio at short and move Vientos among first, third and DH. Of the three, Baty also is the most touted by prospect services —, for example, has him ranked 17th overall. 

“He has made a lot of improvement from last year [on defense],” Chavez said. “He looks quicker and more comfortable. His throwing [last year] didn’t look this comfortable. The game looks like it is slowing down for him. He’s already a big-league hitter; that’s in the bag. I can guarantee you he is a middle-of-the-order bat. It’s going to be a big year for him defensively. We all believe in him as an organization and staff but for himself, for all the hard work he has put in, he is going to need to see the results.” 

He begins as the favorite to be the Mets’ future at a position that once seemed destined for Correa, then Machado. It is a contest within this season for the Mets. A test is on to see who will emerge from their version of the third degree.

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