PORT ST. LUCIE — Brandon Nimmo limped into the Mets clubhouse Sunday morning with his right leg swathed in a black double wrap from ankle to knee.
It was so stark that it was easy to disregard the small — by comparison — white bandage splayed over his left ankle. Nimmo’s right foot stuck as he was sliding toward second base Friday night and caused what the team termed low-grade sprains of both his right ankle and knee. But his foot stuck with such a hold that when it popped out of the dirt it forcefully kicked back into his left ankle, gashing it with a cleat.
Nimmo had a macabre laugh about a large gash somehow being the second worst injury and that he needed a modern technique that works like a stitch, but isn’t. When the discussion turned to whether there would still be — with this process — a scar, he said, probably and offered, “My days as a foot model might be over.”
Nimmo could find humor Sunday morning because 24 hours earlier imaging revealed “The best news we could have gotten” — low-grade sprains, but no structural damage to his ankle or knee. Nimmo said he believes he will be ready for the March 30 opener in Miami, but even if not, this is not considered a long-term setback.
Which, considering how bad it looked in the moment, made the mummification of his lower right leg play like a huge victory. Especially because Nimmo’s injury came 24 hours after Edwin Diaz crumbled at the World Baseball Classic and was lost for the season with a torn patellar tendon, increasing an instant sense of dread over the most expensive roster in MLB history.
“I was definitely scared right when it happened given what had just happened with Edwin,” Nimmo said.
Steve Cohen’s checkbook and Billy Eppler’s planning and Buck Showalter’s leadership can overcome lots of setbacks — probably more than most. But Diaz and Nimmo were guaranteed $264 million of Cohen’s dollars in the offseason because the Mets saw them as being on the meter of replacable somewhere between difficult to impossible. Bench coach Eric Chavez told me after Diaz’s injury, “If you’re a good team and you remove one player and that makes you vulnerable, then you weren’t a good team.”
But what about two? Eppler, with the benefit of Cohen’s largesse, tried to make the Mets more bulletproof (Jeff Brigham, Elieser Hernandez, Joey Lucchesi, Danny Mendick and Dennis Santana have major league contracts worth $5.26 million and are all ticketed for the minors to begin the year). Showalter prides himself on constantly asking the “What if?” question — what if Player X goes down, who is next up? Yet, “Next man up” is a nice sentiment, but less viable in some situations. So who are the top five least replacable now that Diaz is likely gone for the season:
1. Francisco Lindor
Luis Guillorme could play short (would the Mets risk Ronny Mauricio?). But when considering Lindor’s defensive, switch-hitting, baserunning and on-field IQ, he feels like the toughest to replace.
2. Brandon Nimmo
I thought about Starling Marte, in part, because his late-season thumb injury last year revealed just how much the Mets relied on his diverse offense. But Jeff McNeil could go to right and Guillorme to second. The backup center-field option is Mark Canha? Tim Locastro? Lorenzo Cedrola? Plus, the lineup would lose Nimmo’s on-base skills/energy from leadoff.
3. David Robertson
Take your pick on him or Adam Ottavino. Without Diaz and without trade options probably coming into focus before June — likely not until July — the Mets need 100-plus high-quality outings from Robertson and Ottavino to keep the late-inning cornerstone strong and allow Showalter to figure out the procession of setup men in front of them.
4. Pete Alonso
Again, I think of Marte or McNeil. But Alonso hit nearly a quarter of the Mets’ homers last year. Unless Francisco Alvarez is summoned and provides instant pop, the Mets cannot really afford to have Alonso’s power go poof.
5. Max Scherzer
You could pick Justin Verlander, also. The Mets thrived for two-thirds of a season in 2022 despite the absence of co-ace Jacob deGrom. But veterans Chris Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker were sturdy and productive. Jose Quintana already is out for half a season. Kodai Senga provides mystery regarding how he will handle a five-man rotation. So the Mets can sure use 50-plus starts from Scherzer/Verlander.