The Mets made the right decision in the beginning of August when they named Wilmer Flores the primary short stop for the remainder of the 2014 season. They tripled that good decision by releasing Chris Young, promoting Matt den Dekker and committing to a den Dekker and Eric Campbell platoon for the rest of the year. Let’s hope that den Dekker and Flores understand what this opportunity is about because it could be the one shot they have to stick in the major leagues.
Let’s analyze this for a moment. The Mets are not that far from contention. That might appear to be ridiculous, considering their record and lack of competitiveness over the past four years, but when you look at them position by position, it becomes obvious. Lucas Duda is having a career year and, at the least, is a power hitting platoon player. If he can hit lefties, which is his try out through August and September, then he’s the everyday first baseman the Mets can use to bridge to a prospect like Dominic Smith. Daniel Murphy was an All Star this season. David Wright, despite a poor offensive season, will still produce and 3 plus WAR and is still a top 10 third baseman in the major leagues. Curtis Granderson has been solid since his awful start and Juan Lagares has shown that he has a little bit of a bat to go along with spectacular defense. Travis d’Arnaud had an awful start to the season, but has since hit like the elite catching prospect everyone said he was. The pitching staff speaks for itself.
You may have noticed that two positions were left out. The major reason for the Mets mediocrity this season has been a total lack of production in left field and at short stop. Defensively the players in those positions have been fine, but offensively they’ve basically been non-productive. This is where Flores and den Dekker come in.
For den Dekker, this could be his one opportunity. den Dekker will turn 27 in August, too old to still be considered a prospect with upside if he doesn’t make it this year. He is an elite defensive player, which might earn him a spot as a fourth outfielder somewhere, but any chance he has to be an everyday or platoon player, is totally reliant on these last two months. den Dekker’s career so far has been marred by the strikeout, which he seemed to fix this year in Las Vegas. So far, that part of his game has translated as he hasn’t struck out in the 16 plate appearances he’s had since his recall. He’s also hit .333 in that time period, so he’s off to a good start. The problem has been an utter lack of power. He’s had one extra base hit since his recall and only has five extra base hits in 128 career big league plate appearances. The Mets can’t afford to have two versions of Lagares in the outfield. den Dekker needs to either show some power or prove that his lower strike out rate can lead him to bat in the leadoff spot.
What makes this such a great opportunity for den Dekker is that the offseason is fairly devoid of outfield talent. The two best free agents are probably Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera, who both carry major concerns. Cruz’s numbers look good, but three things are problematic. One is that he’s played over half of his games as a designated hitter, which he obviously wouldn’t be able to do in the National League. The second is that his numbers, which appear to be exactly what the Mets need (31 home runs and 83 RBI), are misleading. In April and May, Cruz hit 20 home runs, knocked in 52 runs and batted .315 with a .675 SLG. Since June 1st, Cruz has hit .219 with a .393 SLG, 11 home runs and 31 RBI. Since the All Star break he has been particularly pitiful, batting .169 with a 581 OPS, which you can note is lower than his SLG was alone over his first 203 at bats. When all of that is added to the fact that he’ll be 35 next year and will not sign for anything less than a multi-year contract, it’s difficult to see him as a viable option. Cabrera is more ideal as he will only be 30 next year and is having another solid season, but he’s also a former steroid guy who played terribly last year. He’s been clean this year, but is he worth a multi-year deal? Do we want to trade for Carlos Gonzalez and his many injuries (which now includes knee tendinitis) or deal our entire system away for Giancarlo Stanton, if he even becomes available and the Marlins are willing to trade him in the division?
So den Dekker has a good shot here. If he can hit with some power and show he won’t be a strike out issue, then he might just be the teams’ left fielder next year to start the season.
Flores has a higher hill to climb. Flores is playing for a spot in the major leagues it’s just debatable if it will be as a New York Met. Flores has held his own at short stop, but he just doesn’t have the range to play there for the Mets. With Murphy as an offensive oriented short stop, the Mets can’t afford to have a similarly oriented short stop. If Murphy was an elite fielder, then Flores’ chances would be higher to stick at short as he’s shown a solid glove on the balls he gets to and the ability to make the necessary throws. But with better defensive options in the free agent market (Asdrubal Cabrera and JJ Hardy), he’s going to have to show he can hit and do so with power. Matt Reynolds has torn up Binghamton and Las Vegas this year and is a better fielder than Flores, while the aforementioned Hardy and Cabrera are also better hitters, at this point. Flores has been highly touted for his bat and RBI potential. The ability to knock in runs has sporadically shown itself in the majors, but his power hasn’t.
But let’s be real about this. Even if his power does show itself, it might be a foregone conclusion that Flores is gone. If he hits decently the remainder of the year and the Mets can upgrade at shortstop, they will, while using Flores as a trade chip. He’s young enough that if he doesn’t play well this year, he could still develop, but that won’t be with the Mets if he doesn’t hit.
So if one could handicap this situation, it’s probably more likely that den Dekker is playing regularly for this team next year than Flores. If he continues to hit, shows some pop, gets on base and limits his strike outs, the Mets will more than likely start next year with den Dekker in at least a platoon, while looking to upgrade the lineup at shortstop. That also could create the best defensive outfield in baseball, one that the pitchers will love. Of course, Flores could tear the cover off of the ball and the Mets could look to trade Murphy also to open up a better defensive spot for Flores, but that’s not even on the table until Flores starts smashing the ball around major league stadiums. This will be an interesting few months, with the young guys getting a chance to shine. Let’s hope they do.