I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there is a good possibility that Ruben Tejada will be the Mets shortstop in 2015. There is a huge caveat with that statement, and that is the assumption that Wilmer Flores fails to take the position via his superior offensive capabilities, or Matt Reynolds down in Triple-A does not impress. Both could make a strong case either during the remainder of 2014 or in the spring of 2015. For now we will assume that Tejada, who never lost the shortstop position, still owns it moving forward.
If that situation continues, and internal options continue to allude Sandy Alderson, then free agency would be the next most likely target to improve a position that has produced for the season a .231 AVG (26th in MLB), .335 OBP (4th), and .291 SLG (29th). Tejada’s constant 8th spot in the batting order has helped that OBP number, but the average and slugging percentage are atrocious, and therefore a better bat should be found.
Who in the projected class of 2015 free agent shortstops could then fill that role for the Mets? If you want to go with the best available option, you would of course go with Hanley Ramirez. As he is currently on the Los Angeles Dodgers, who sport the highest payroll in baseball, it’s highly unlikely that the Mets will be entering a bidding war for his services. Ramirez will only be 31 next year, so a 6-8 year deal worth roughly $100-$180 is not out of the question. Alderson will pass.
What about the man with 162 home runs to his name, and a career .423 slugging percentage in J.J. Hardy? He will be coming off a down year by his standards, but could still net something in the area of $15 million per year for 3-5 years for his track record. Depending on the market, Alderson might take a peek, but again this will probably be too rich for his blood. After Hardy, the options start to dwindle quite quickly.
Jimmy Rollins could be available if his option is not garnered. He is still a very productive player at SS, as he currently has 13 home runs, 19 SB, a .393 SLG, and a fantastic K/BB ratio. The downside is that he will be 36 next year, and Rollins has been perhaps the epitomizing figure of this last decade of Mets suffering. Mets fans will not welcome him with open arms, and he could probably still command a 2-3 year deal from someone desperate enough. Hopefully that’s not us.
Jed Lowrie might hit free agency as Billy Beane is not used to paying to keep his own players around. Lowrie has been a very solid shortstop sporting a .442 SLG over the last two full seasons. This year his numbers are down, but he will only be 31 next spring. If he finishes 2014 strong, it will only be the second year he’s ever player more than 97 games in a major league season, so the long-term projectability on him is tough. He too is the most affordable option, but still could be out of the Mets price range, again depending on the market.
Then there is the enigma known as Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera will only be 29 next year, so that’s a plus. However, he strikes out roughly three times for every walk. His slugging has gone down consistently from .460 in 2011 to .392 currently this season. He can still hit home runs, but doesn’t get on base nearly enough. His service time each season has been going down, and overall his power probably won’t translate well to Citi Field’s spacious confines. He will probably be more affordable than the others, but that’s because everyone see’s the problems he has with his game. Probably the easiest get for Alderson, for bad reasons.
Even further down the list are guys like Mike Aviles, Stephen Drew and Raphael Furcal, but we hope it won’t come to that. All in all it looks like the two top-tier free agents in Ramirez and Hardy will command large enough contracts to keep the Mets quiet, and the rest might not be worth the Chris Young-style risk it would be to sign them. So while Alderson doesn’t want to trade young arms for position players at the moment as a deal is now “unlikely”, when it comes to improving at shortstop, it might be the only way out.
Of course, Flores or Reynolds may have something to say about that. Or there’s always this guy named Tejada.