Somehow it feels wrong writing this just days after Ruben Tejada took a mid-90s fastball to the head, but there’s no denying shortstop – and left field – has been a weakness for the New York Mets. Tejada’s numbers improved some as the 2014 campaign progressed, but a .235/.347/.292 slash with mediocre defense isn’t going to wow any competent front office as a starter.
So what’s next?
Yes, the Mets could technically still strike for a wildcard berth or even the division title this season. But the focus is on next year – that’s a familiar mantra for Flushing fans – so any 2014 moves must keep 2015 in mind.
Assuming the 2015 lineup is similar to the 2014 lineup, the Mets will desperately need some strong hitters at shortstop and left field to revitalize the offense. There’s a little power from Granderson, Duda and d’Arnaud; decent hitting from Murphy, Wright and Lagares; and Duda leads the team focus on on-base percentage. But getting a walk and going station-to-station doesn’t cut it; the Mets won 8-2 prior to the all-star break when they were getting extra-base hits. That sets the criteria for next year’s shortstop as a player who can hit for average, at least hit doubles and be solid in the field.
The Starlin Castro-Mets rumors were in full-swing earlier this month after a team source called the opposing shortstop “a perfect match” for New York. It did sound perfect. Chicago was blessed with an excess of talented shortstop prospects and cursed with no pitching, while the Mets carry a glut of superb pitching talent and little hitting. Castro profiles reasonably well in a trade. The 24-year-old all-star is hitting .281 over his five years in the bigs, cracked at least 10 home runs a season since 2010 and has no shortage of doubles and triples. Unfortunately, there are questions about his defense and character, ignoring the fact that Chicago has said they have no plans of trading him.
The Texas Rangers would probably move Elvis Andrus for substantially less in terms of prospects, but he would still cost New York plenty. The 25-year-old is about to begin an eight-year deal for $120 million next season. At the same time, his offensive numbers have been mediocre at best. In his sixth full season, Andrus is slashing .260/.307/.332. He does walk at a reasonable rate compared to strikeouts and is fleet of foot on the bases. Andrus is also a plus defender, which could be appealing with a young pitching staff.
One of the other names floating about the trade rumors is Alexei Ramirez. A career Chicago White Sox, Ramirez earned a ticket to the 2014 All-Star game and has better offensive numbers than Andrus without the overbearing contract. He’ll typically hit around .280 with plenty of doubles and stolen bases, although his home run numbers haven’t cracked double-digits in a few seasons. On defense, he’s solid without being spectacular. Assuming the pale hose don’t demand a king’s ransom, his age of 33 poses a problem for the Mets.
Down on the farm, the Mets have a few shortstop prospects with familiar names. Wilmer Flores is the most well-known, getting another ticket to New York with Tejada’s condition. Nobody played exceptionally well in the 9-1 blowout loss to Milwaukee, but Flores did have one of the two Mets hits that game. And that’s what GM Sandy Alderson and Manager Terry Collins are counting on; the 22-year-old has routinely shown an ability to hit .300 and even flash some low double-digit home run power. Assuming Collins gets him at-bats, Flores will have to keep hitting because he’s significantly weaker in the field, especially his range.
The other side of that coin is Amed Rosario. At the tender age of 18, Rosario is super-projectable but hardly a proven commodity. In his early pro career, he’s shown very good bat speed, which should help develop power as his body fills out. Rosario also has a strong arm and soft hands in the field. But with only seven games in low-A ball, there’s a long way for him to go before he becomes a major league shortstop. Don’t expect him to see Citi Field without a ticket until 2017.
Gavin Cecchini is likely a case of buyers’ remorse. The 20-year-old was taken with the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft, but has hardly lived up to the hype of a first-round pick. Cecchini is a slick defensive shortstop, showcasing a strong arm and good range. He’s also shown some ability to make contact, although his batting average is just .190 after a month in high-A. Don’t expect any impressive jacks either, Cecchini has very little power. If he pans out, he probably won’t be a Met until 2016.
He doesn’t garner many headlines, but the underdog in the race could be Matt Reynolds. Reynolds, 23, has become something of a happy surprise for the franchise. In his first full season in double-A and triple-A, he’s slashing .335/.405/.409. Reynolds has never had an issue getting on base, but this is the first time his average has cracked the .300-mark. Unfortunately, he has very little power and lack of athletic prowess forecasts him better as an infield super sub in the big leagues.