At 18-10 and comfortably in first place, the Mets are clearly doing something right. Actually, they’re doing a few things right. The starting rotation has been terrific and the bullpen, despite the injuries and suspension, has been amazing. While the lineup has had its struggles – as evidenced by back-to-back 1-0 losses to the Nationals – it should get a big boost when David Wright comes back off the disabled list in a week or so. That it has to wait for Wright is a problem. This organization has pitching depth in spades, but as this writer correctly pointed out in the pre-season, it does not have the positional depth to withstand injuries to its every day players.
A Collection of Defensive Replacements
That’s essentially what the Mets bench is comprised of – defensive replacements. Anthony Recker can call a solid game, prevent wild pitches, throw out would be runners and look handsome on camera, but he can’t hit. Ruben Tejada provides a defensive upgrade over Wilmer Flores, but he can’t hit. Kirk Nieuwenhuis makes a great late inning defensive replacement for Michael Cuddyer, but he can’t hit. Ditto for John Mayberry from the right side. And Eric Campbell, while his versatility makes him a great last guy on the bench, was badly exposed in 50 at bats filling in for Wright at third base, hitting just .200.
Aside from the more recently promoted Kevin Plawecki and Dilson Herrera, Campbell’s .200 has actually been the best of the bunch. Collectively, they are hitting .185 with just four home runs in 195 at bats. And they’re not getting on base either. Other than Campbell and Recker (whose six walks are an anomaly based on him batting eighth) everyone in this sad group has an OBP under .300.
How Do We Fix This?
Shifting Daniel Murphy to third and recalling Herrera to play second was a shrewd move. It improves the defense, replaces Campbell’s struggling bat and showcases Murphy as a more appealing third baseman all in well fell swoop. Recalling Plawecki so Recker doesn’t get exposed like Campbell has also paid off. It’s great to see the front office being so nimble in their player moves. Unfortunately, no such internal maneuvering options exist for the outfield.
That Nieuwenheis and Mayberry are hitting a collective .111 is a problem. If any of our starting outfielders gets injured, it will be a disaster. Given that our corner outfielders are 36 and 34, and our centerfielder is an acrobat, it’s more a matter of when than if an injury occurs. Internally, beyond Campbell, Nieuwenheis and Mayberry, we have two promising outfield prospects in Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto, however both are at least a full season away from contributing at the major league level. In case you’re thinking, “we never should have traded away Matt Den Dekker,” think again. He’s languishing in triple AAA Syracuse, batting .187.
If the front office is on its toes, it will solve for this before it becomes a problem so we’re not dealing from a position of desperation. While few trades get made at this point of the season, they do happen. San Francisco was reportedly scouting recent Mets games and speculation was that they were keeping an eye on Murphy as a Pablo Sandoval replacement. The Giants could also use rotation help so perhaps a package of Murphy and Gee to free up salary and create some roster flexibility, but for who? Their outfield consists of Hunter Pence (injured, expensive and probably not available), Nori Aoki, Gregor Blanco and our old friend Angel Pagan. Doesn’t seem like a good match. And if you’re thinking shortstop, Brandon Crawford, while better defensively, does not present an overall upgrade over Wilmer Flores.
Rather than trying to deal Murphy (too valuable to us this year as a versatile infielder, veteran presence and consistent hitter) and Gee (need his innings and change of pace in the rotation) how about look for what we need, not what we prefer to trade. The Milwaukee Brewers have gotten off to a horrific start and Aramis Ramirez has said he’s retiring after this season. They certainly would be willing to trade a veteran or two for some young talent. Presumably, they want to rebuild around Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy, but how about the speedy leadoff shortstop Jean Segura and the doubles hitting defensive whiz Gerardo Parra? What would it take to land those two? Maybe Flores (as a stop gap shortstop and future third baseman) and Rafael Montero? Sandy Alderson should get on the phone and find out because those two could put this team over the top.