The Nick Evans Dilemma

Who are you?

Who are you? I really wanna know.

The folks at Amazin’ Avenue, a premiere Mets blog (and a part of the inimitable SB Nation), have generated plenty of gems throughout their reign as purveyors of everything Metsian. None may be better than the “meme” that Nick Evans, the oft-forgotten #6 on the Mets’ roster, has befallen a worse fate than dropping off the front office’s radar. He is known at Amazin’ Avenue by the moniker “Who?”–a testament to the Mets’ propensity to treat him like the invisible man. It’s only fitting, then, that he is immortalized as the English supergroup of the same name by the photoshop skills of AA commenter Spike Davis.

He has fallen into the Mets’ equivalent of the Springfield Mystery Spot, lost in a vortex where he has been passed over by the likes of Mike Hessman and Jesus Feliciano. (I have an eternal soft-spot for the Hessman and Feliciano types: minor league mashers who have never gotten much of a chance in the bigs). Although Evans will likely never reach the same stardom as Ozzie Smith (lest we forget the unfortunate victim of Springfield’s cruelest attraction) and, barring some hidden musical talent, will never rival Daltrey, Townsend, Moon and Entwistle, he should be remembered as something more than who?

Ozzie's Foray into the "Mystery Spot"

Nick Evans vis-à-vis Ozzie Smith

The 25-year-old lefty masher taken in the 5th round of the 2004 draft has been on the periphery of the Mets’ plans since 2008. Evans was once synonymous with his buddy–and fellow ’08 callup Daniel Murphy. Evans was the right handed Murphy, Murph the lefty Evans. Let’s take a look:

Murphy 2008 (AA): .308/.374/.496  in 95 games

Evans 2008 (AA): .311/.365/.561 in 75 games

[avg/obp/slg]

Both arrived in New York with similar fanfare, billed as products of Minaya’s well-scouted farm system that could potentially fill the void in left field left by the hoary Moises Alou. Evans was given 119 plate appearances [PA] in 50 games, while Murphy notched 151 PA in 49 games. Memory seems to fail us here. Recalling the end of the 2008 season, we remember a few things: Luis Ayala as the new (and rather shaky) closer, the vast improvement in “morale” instilled by skipper Jerry Manuel’s (cough), and Daniel Murphy’s emergence.

Murphy was the second coming of John Milner or even the 1975 incarnation of Mike Vail, who hit his way into Mets’ fans hearts as the “player of the future” with a line of .302/.339/.420 in only 38 games. Vail, of course, sputtered in his remaining seasons with the Mets. In 2008, Greg Prince, who along with Jason Fry, writes Faith and Fear in Flushing, another preeminent Mets’ blog that should be in your Google Reader, wondered:

Is Daniel Murphy the next Edgardo Alfonzo, the next Mike Vail, or a player who will make such an impression that eventually someone will be the next Daniel Murphy?

But where was Nick Evans in this conversation? His fate may have been sealed by a small sample size. Just as Murphy became the de facto left fielder in 2009 because of his impressive 2008 big-league line of  .313/.397/.473

Evans was shuffled off to Buffalo after Spring Training of 2009 after posting a .231/.275/.385 with the big league club in ’08. Murphy’s sweeping left-handed swing, high on base percentage and impressive slugging percentage guaranteed him a job. Evans’ statistics ticketed him for Buffalo.

He struggled mightily at AAA at the beginning of 2009, and as Murphy had assumed the role of the Mets’ starting first baseman in place of Carlos Delgado, Evans found himself in Binghamton, the Mets’ AA affiliate. He didn’t see major league action again until August 25th, and only in a limited role. 2010 saw more of the same. This time, (albeit in another small sample size) he posted a respectable wOBA (for more information on weighted on base average, click here) of .346. Evans’, according to Bill James’ projections for 2011, will notch a wOBA of .339, which would rank around the 60th percentile of all major leaguers. Not bad for a player who has fallen into a bottomless pit.

Evans’ disappearance from the Mets’ plans is most certainly a testament to the former regime’s often frustrating tendency to favor veterans over internal minor league options. Think Abraham Nuñez in 2008, Marlon Anderson’s $2.2 million deal, Alex Cora’s vesting option (that thankfully, did not vest). Or the Minaya/Manuel hierarchy’s refusal to give Nelson Figueroa starts. Or the Darren O’Day fiasco, where the Rule 5 pick (who has since blossomed for the AL champion Texas Rangers) was demoted in favor of the forgettable Casey Fossum, who is back in a Mets’ uniform this spring. Following suit, Evans was lost in the often confusing decision-making of 2009 and 2010.

Nick at the bat

Evans, after posting 37 PA for the Mets in 2010, remains in limbo in the spring of 2011. He is challenged by Scott Hairston, who is guaranteed a bench spot after signing a major league deal, Willie Harris, the notorious Met-killer (via defense), and light-hitting Chin-Lung Hu. Evans’ downfall in the Mets’ plans may be his defense. He cannot play centerfield, which Harris can. He can’t back up the middle infield positions, like Hu. He doesn’t have the caché of Murphy or even of rule 5 pick Brad Emaus. Most importantly, he is out of options, leaving him exposed to waivers if the Mets decide to keep him off the 25-man roster this spring. He has, to new manager Terry Collins’ credit, been receiving much needed playing time in the early part of the exhibition schedule. Aside from 1st, Evans has been taking reps at 3rd, a position largely unfamiliar to him. (Remember, for the sake of argument, that Daniel Murphy was originally a 3rd baseman). He still can play left adequately, if not unspectacularly. His biggest asset remains his bat, especially against lefties. His defense, in all likelihood, will not win any games for the Mets. Yet, it should not lose any for them either, especially if Evans sees a majority of his plate appearances as a pinch hitter.

But, assuming that Willie Harris makes the team for his superb defense (and despite his weak bat), while either Hu or Emaus fill another bench spot and Murphy starts the year with the Mets at 2nd, it would appear that Evans will be out of Flushing. It isn’t likely that another big league team will pass on a still-young player who can, at worst, perform as an average major leaguer. His upside could be more. And although jettisoning a talented young hitter may be a sign that the Mets’ bench will be strong, there is another distinct, and depressing possibility that lingers: that Evans will forever be the “26th man” as long as he is a Met; he will never be able change his nameplate above the number 6 from “WHO” to “EVANS.” It may take another team to know who he is.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

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