The Mets identified shortstop as a part of their wish list leading into the offseason. While there have been perceptible additions to the outfield and the pitching staff (Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, Bartolo Colon, John Lannan, Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde), shortstop has remained status quo. Part of that is due to the fact that the free agent market for shortstop’s dried up pretty quickly. Part is due to Scott Boras trying to parlay that dry market into a contract for Stephen Drew that no one, including the Mets, wants to give him. On top of that, Ruben Tejada went to fitness camp and got into shape. In addition Wilmer Flores, the former minor league shortstop determined by the organization to not have the range to play the position, also went to that fitness camp and impressed the team enough that he will get “a look” at shortstop during spring training.
So, between the dry market, the Drew drama and the offseason training regimen, the Mets appear to have taken a step back from fulfilling that particular wish. However, the significance of the trade market can’t be ignored as part of this equation. Where a multitude of shortstops (Yunel Escobar, Jed Lowrie, Jose Reyes, Chris Owings, Didi Gregorius, etc.) appeared to be available, none have been traded and none appear to be on the way to being traded, at least not until the trade deadline. Basically, it appears that it will be Tejada versus Flores for the position this spring training.
However, information came across the internet recently that could change that equation. The Mariners made the biggest splash of the offseason by signing Robinson Cano to a 10 year 240 million dollar contract. By making this signing, they also put themselves in a position to move one of their young middle infielders, Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin and Brad Miller. Up until recently, it appeared that the Mariners might just hold fast and figure out how to get these different players in the lineup. At this point in time, though, it appears that Miller and Franklin are squarely on the market. Miller played shortstop for the Mariners last year, after being called up from Triple-A. Franklin was originally a shortstop and was converted to second base in the minors, the position he primarily played after his own call up last year. Franklin has stated that his natural position is shortstop and he did play the position in a handful of games during his call up last year. So, this seems to answer a potential need. Two young, under control shorstops are available. On top of that, the Mariners are reportedly interested in a pitching prospect in return. This appears to be right up the Mets alley, but I’m not so sure.
Let’s look at the two players. Franklin is the higher end young player. Franklin has, on two different occasions, cracked Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list, ranking 53rd prior to 2011 and 79th prior to 2013. He’s a switch hitter with some punch in his bat, producing a 157 ISO and 33 extra base hits over 412 plate appearances after his call up in 2013. This power output wasn’t far off the mark from his minor league numbers, where he produced a career ISO of 172 and averaged 36 extra base hits per 412 plate appearances. On top of that, Franklin turns 23 in March.
The problems with Franklin lie in questionable defense. Last season, the average shortstop in the major leagues had a .974 fielding percentage and a 4.4 range. Throughout the 261 minor league games Franklin played at shortstop, he had a career fielding percentage of .943 and a range of 4.16, both below average at the position. In fact, over individual seasons at the position, he only once produced a range that would be considered above average (4.81 over 64 games in 2011) and has never produced a fielding percentage even remotely close to the major league average in 2013. One could argue that his offensive numbers would make up for this deficiency, but there are holes there as well. Franklin had a 27.5% strikeout rate in 2013 and, although he produced a solid walk rate of 10.2%, he doesn’t really fit the bill as a leadoff hitter, one of the Mets primary needs. Basically, Franklin profiles a lot like Flores does at the position; offense first, defense second. So the question that needs to be asked is, if the Mets already have a very similar player (minus some speed and the fact that Franklin’s a switch hitter) in Flores, then is it worthwhile trading a prospect to get another player of the same make and model?
Miller profiles slightly differently. Miller is nearly two years older than Franklin (turning 25 in October) and hits left handed. He also stuck at shortstop in the minors, playing 199 of his 215 minor league games at the position. Miller profiles well with the bat, producing a 182 ISO in the minor leagues, with a little more speed than Franklin. Miller’s major league debut last year was more successful overall as he hit 40 points higher than Franklin, struck out a 15.7% rate and notched six triples in 335 plate appearances, showing the speed. He also, in essence, matched Franklin’s ISO with a 153, although he appears to be a player that will hit for less home run power than Franklin. His walk rate was also just average at 7.2%, but he could slot better into a leadoff position than Franklin did.
Again though, defense is the issue. Miller is better defensively than Franklin, but he still posted below average numbers at the position throughout his minor league career (.940 fielding percentage, 4.24 range) and in the major leagues (.972 fielding percentage and 3.56 range). He doesn’t have the same offensive holes that Franklin does regarding strikeouts, but he also doesn’t have the same high range status that Franklin does (Miller was never considered a top 100 prospect in Baseball). It also seems that the Mariners would more likely move Franklin, since he’s the inferior defender and doesn’t really have a position on the team. The same question comes to mind for Miller as did Franklin.
So, how do we answer that question? The Mets need to just say no to Franklin and Miller. I’m all for trading to improve the team, but it’s hard for me to see the improvement here. Franklin and Miller, although slightly different players than Flores, both profile very similarly with Flores. There is a defensive question with all three players, while their bats are expected to help make up the difference. Franklin, just like Flores, was moved off of the shortstop due to the thought that he couldn’t handle the position in the major leagues. Miller saw time at second base last year, probably for similar reasons to Franklin. Yes, Miller and Franklin have proved more offensively in the major leagues than Flores, but it’s not like these guys have been playing for three or more years at that level. They combined have 747 plate appearances, which basically adds up to around 180 full games. That’s not enough to say that they are definitively better offensive players than Flores, just like Flores short stint in the majors last year isn’t enough to say he can’t make it in the major leagues.
Since neither player brings elite defensive skills or the ability to hit leadoff (Miller is a borderline candidate in that regard), then sending a pitching prospect to Seattle for either of these players, doesn’t really make sense. Tejada is a better defender than either player. Flores has just as much upside as a hitter. The Mets already need to make a choice between defense and offense, and this won’t clarify the situation at all. My belief is that, in regards to the shortstop situation, unless the acquisition made provides clarity, then there’s no point in acquiring a player that will just muddle matters all the more.
So, despite the news of Franklin or Miller being available, I say we stick to our guns. Basically, unless Drew falls in the Mets lap, I’m looking forward to the Flores and Tejada competition in spring training and am totally fine with letting the Mariners send either of their young infielders elsewhere.