With cleanup hitter and first baseman Lucas Duda expected to be out four-to-six weeks with a stress fracture in his lower back, the Mets find themselves in quite a pickle. When the season began, the Mets front office thought they had infield depth to spare and DFA’d long-time Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada to save on his $3 million plus salary. The thinking was, Wilmer Flores could back up all four infield positions, and, if need be, they could always call up the versatile Eric Campbell or Matt Reynolds from AAA Las Vegas. This thinking went on despite David Wright’s likely inability to play the full schedule with his own spinal stenosis issues.
What this thought process did not take into account, is what if one of the other three infielders were to suffer a significant injury? Or what if Flores himself, positioned to be our most important bench player, got injured? This writer is not suggesting Tejada, who is struggling in St. Louis, is or was the answer, but we clearly needed more depth in the infield. As we’ve learned over the past week, with Flores and Duda both on the DL, it’s a problem.
Campbell may be fine as the 25th man or a player shuttled between AAA and the show as needed, however, his weak bat is quickly exposed with regular playing time. Throw Travis d’Arnaud’s DL stay into the mix, and we’re playing games with a very weak bottom of the order. And as Curtis Granderson continues to struggle at the top of the lineup, we’re overly reliant on four guys to produce all the runs.
The good news is Flores is coming off the DL tonight, but is he really capable of filling in at first base in a long term situation? In terms of his bat, he may be a better option than Campbell, as evidenced by the 16 home runs he hit last year. However, prior to straining his hamstring and landing on the 15-day DL, Flores was batting just .180 with one homer. Even assuming Flores can find his stroke, and that’s a pretty big assumption, there are three glaring issues with this option.
First, even if Flores is at his best at the plate, he’s not a 30-homer hitter who draws walks and provides lineup protection like Duda. Secondly, Flores has very little experience at first base so we’ll see an obvious drop off in defense. Duda, while no gold glover, has developed into a decent first baseman who will make the glove plays and occasionally save an errant throw. With Flores playing out of position, he’s not going to rescue those wild sidearm throws from Wright, nor is he going to be able to reliably field bunts, hold runners on, or communicate properly with the pitcher. Lastly, if Flores is our regular first baseman, that means we have to rely on a combination of Campbell and Reynolds to fill in for Wright, back up the middle infield, and provide late inning pinch hits. Oy.
A smarter option would be to let Flores play that role and sign James Loney to take over at first until Duda comes back. Loney doesn’t have Duda’s power, or Flores’ for that matter, but he’s an experienced veteran who can hit .280 and play a solid first base. He would cost us nothing as he is currently on the Padres’ AAA team so if he doesn’t work out, we cut him and explore a trade.
There are not a ton of options as first baseman range from hasbeens with monster contracts (Ryan Howard, Mark Texiera, Hanley Ramirez) to soon-to-be hasbeens with monster contracts (Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer, Ryan Zimmerman) to unavailable guys with monster contracts (Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Freddie Freeman, Adrian Gonzalez) to guys who can’t be had (Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Brandon Belt, Eric Hosmer).
Remaining first baseman who don’t fall into one of those categories include Mark Reynolds (hitting .318, 2 HRs for Colorado), Will Myers (.262., 7 HRs for San Diego), Brandon Moss (.217, 8 HRs for St. Louis), Chris Carter (.244 13 homers for Milwaukee), Justin Bour (.258, 9 HRs for the Marlins), Yonder Alonso (.223, 1 HR for Oakland), CJ Cron (.250, 3 HRs for LA Angels), Adam Lind (.242, 5 HRs for Seattle), Mitch Moreland (.226, 4 HRs for Texas), Logan Morrison (.225, 3 HRs for Tampa Bay), Mike Napoli (.230, 8 HRs for Cleveland), Justin Smoak (.278, 3 HRs for Toronto), and Tyler White (.230, 7 HRs for Houston).
No catalysts among that lot, but there are options to explore at the trade deadline should we need to bolster first base and the lineup.
Another option to consider is moving Wright to first and either have Flores shift to third or else to second with Walker moving to the hot corner. Regardless of which course of action the front office pursues, the infield corners are a big uncertainty right now.