Heading into this past off-season, the Mets’ front office knew the team needed to add a bat or two to bolster our lineup. The pitching was formidable and deep, but they’d need some run support. We knew we had capable batsmen in David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, Travis d’Arnaud, Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares – though you’d never know it from their recent collective slump. What we didn’t know is who’d be manning shortstop and left field and who would make up the bench. Sandy Alderson shocked Mets fans by jumping head first into the opening of free agency, signing veteran slugger and Wright pal Michael Cuddyer (.241 avg, .307 OBP, 3 HRs, 13 RBI) to a two-year/$21 million contract and forfeiting a first round draft pick as compensation. Next he signed the ex-Phillie, lefty-pitching mashing, outfielder/first baseman John Mayberry, Jr. (.103 avg., 1 RBI) to fortify the bench on a modest one-year deal. And after kicking the tires on a number of shortstop options, Alderson and company chose to stick with the homegrown option, Wilmer Flores (.237, 4 HRs, 7 errors).
In making these decisions, the Met passed over a number of shortstops and corner outfielders who went on to join other teams via free agency or trade in the offseason. Did they make the right moves? Other than in saving money, it appears they swung and missed, at least in the early going.
The big name free agents, aside from Cuddyer, included Nelson Cruz, Melky Cabrera, Nick Markakis and international signee, Yasmany Tomas. All four landed substantial multi-year deals. Cruz, fresh off a career year in Baltimore in which he slugged 40 homers and drove in 108 runs, landed a 4-year deal for $58 million to bat behind Robinson Cano in Seattle. Thus far he’s been worth every penny and then some. His 15 home runs and .738 slugging percentage both lead the majors. Cabrera meanwhile, who left the Blue Jays for the White Sox and a 3-year, $42 million pay day, has gotten off to a pedestrian start, batting .248 with no signs of power or speed. Like the Melk man, Markakis (4-years and $44 million from the Braves) hasn’t been displaying any power or speed, however his .302 batting average and .397 OBP is impressive. Mike “The Beast” Morse, who has power and can play first base as well as outfield might have made a better pick up for the Mets than Mayberry, but thus far he’s hitting just .221 and striking out at an alarming rate.
Given the recent success of other Cuban defectors (Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes), many Mets fans were clamoring for the team to make a play for the slugging corner infielder Tomas. Since we have fixtures at first and third perhaps he could have been shifted to left field. However, despite all the hype and the big contract (6 years, $58 million from the Diamondbacks) Tomas is yet to display the power he’s become known for, though he is batting .288 with .344 OBP. Fellow Cuban defector and outfielder Dian Toscano signed a far more modest deal with the Braves, but is yet to make his big league debut.
As for the remaining free agent outfielders, a bunch settled for 1-year deals, including Alex Rios ($11 million from the Royals), Tori Hunter ($10.5 million from the Twins), Nori Aoki ($4.7 million from the Giants), Jonny Gomes ($4 million from the Braves), Chris Young ($2.5 million from the Yankees), Delmon Young ($2.25 million from the Orioles), Ichiro Suzuki ($2 million from the Marlins), and Grady Sizemore ($2 million from the Phillies). Ryan Ludwick (Rangers) and Eric Young, Jr (Braves), Jeff Francoeur (Phillies) and a few others settled for minor league deals. Meanwhile Yoenis Cespedes (Tigers), Marlon Byrd (Reds), Dexter Fowler (Cubs) Matt Kemp (Padres) and Wil Myers (Padres) were acquired in off-season trades.
While many of these players would have been better options than Mayberry, only a few are performing better than Cuddyer. Rios, while he got off to a good start, is now on the disabled list with a fractured hand. Hunter, now 39, wanted to finish his career in a Twins uniform and he’s going out in style, hitting .281 with 6 home runs. Aoki has gotten off to a nice start with a .359 OBP and 9 steals. Our old friend Chris Young seems to have rediscovered his stroke across town, hitting .303 with 6 home runs. Gomes, while a gritty player and a valued clubhouse presence hasn’t been very productive at the plate for a few years now. In part-time roles, Delmon Young and Ichiro have been effective, hitting .291 and .275 respectively. Sizemore has been mediocre, while Young, Jr. and Francoeur have struggled and Ludwick failed to make the team out of spring training.
Cespedes, traded to the Tigers for pitcher Rick Porcello, has been solid, as have Fowler, Byrd and Myers. Kemp, who has a huge contract and cost the Padres stud catcher Yasmani Grandal and two prospects, has cooled off after a hot start.
Did the Mets make the right decision signing Cuddyer and Mayberry? The jury is still out. Can Mayberry start hitting with some consistency? Can the 36-year-old Cuddyer avoid the disabled list?
Last winter it seemed like nearly every shortstop in Major League Baseball got mentioned in connection with the Mets. While none of them ultimately wound up in blue and orange, about half of them changed teams in the offseason. The Orioles wisely resigned all-around shortstop JJ Hardy to a new contract before he could hit free agency. Mercurial slugger and former shortstop Hanley Ramirez signed a sizable contract with the Red Sox to shift to left field. Former NL MVP and Met killer Jimmy Rollins got traded to the Dodgers while Didi Gregorious went to the Yankees, Everth Cabrera to the Orioles and Yunel Escobar to the Nationals. Meanwhile Jed Lowrie signed a 3-year deal with the Astros and international free agent Jung-ho Kang inked a 4-year deal with the Pirates. Stephen Drew (Yankees), and Asdrubal Cabrera (Rays) signed modest 1-year deals.
Even with Hardy and Ramirez (too expensive and not really considered a shortstop anymore) off the board, there were still options. Cabrera, Gregorious, Rollins, and Drew are all hitting below .230 but Escobar and Kang are both hitting over .300 and Lowrie, who many pundits pegged the Mets to go after, has a remarkable .432 OBP thus far.
Other names mentioned in trade rumors with the Mets like Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond, Alexei Ramirez and Starlin Castro, and even Brad Miller all stayed put. Granted he’s playing second base and isn’t the best defensive shortstop, but Dee Gordon has been leading the majors in batting for pretty much the entire young season. As of this writing, he was hitting .426 with 12 stolen bases. There’s no telling if he’d be any better than Flores defensively, though he’s made just one error at second. However, those big numbers sure would have looked nice atop our lineup.
In the end, Alderson never pulled the trigger and decided to give Flores a shot. If he improves at the plate, he’s certainly a younger and cheaper option than a lot of the other shortstops who were available. If not, many of those same names are still out there for consideration.