Is Wilmer Flores the answer at first base?

mlb_g_flores_d1_200With 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.

17 comments for “Is Wilmer Flores the answer at first base?

  1. TexasGusCC
    May 27, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Matt, the Mets reached out to James Loney three days ago, before anyone even thought his name:
    http://www.mlbdailydish.com/2016/5/24/11761106/mets-rumors-james-loney-padres

    For some reason, it hasn’t happened yet. He does seem to be exactly what they like and need, but, the Padres may just call him up to block him from leaving or his reps could be asking for too much in a signing due to the Mets plight. Ideally, we get Loney, put Flores back in his role, and send Campbell or Reynolds down. Although Campbell made a heads-up defensive play on Wednesday in the ninth inning, I would rather keep Reynolds and give him an extended look as a backup since he’s the better defender.

  2. Jimmy P
    May 27, 2016 at 9:20 am

    Wilmer is very likely not the answer, but I think it’s a mistake to focus, as you do here, on HRs.

    The Mets offense has proved to be an all-or-nothing machine, dependent upon the long ball, but also prone to lapses. We all know this. We also know that Lucas Duda embodies that (so-called) problem as much as any other Met.

    Here is an opportunity to tweak the offense. Imagine if, for example, a guy like Dom Smith was ready. A high BA, doubles-type player. Or even the old version of Daniel Murphy. Or, crazily, De Aza. You could seriously change the dynamic of the offense.

    I still think d’Arnaud could play here short-term, and should be practicing the position right now in Florida.

    And maybe Wilmer does okay enough. Or Conforto.

    My guess is that the Mets cobble it together with internal solutions. It won’t be ideal, but it might be enough.

    James Looney doesn’t excite me.

  3. Tommy2cat
    May 27, 2016 at 10:33 am

    Hello, Matt: Thanks for the thoughtful article.

    Among the existing choices, Wilmer deserves a shot. Prior to his injury, his playing time was very inconsistent and his performance suffered as a consequence. He’s not a veteran that can throw it into gear on short notice. I’m less concerned about his defense than his offense. Some of his issues at the plate appear to be mechanical. He’s too upright, too stilted. He should broaden his stance, flex his knees and use his legs to step into the pitch & hit it where it’s pitched. Seems basic.

    Unless Lucas can learn to hit the ball to left field on a consistent basis, TDA may be the best interim solution until Dom Smith is ready. His performance and lack of durability as a catcher dictate a position switch… first base may be an ideal spot. He also has mechanical issues to address, which he will be better able to focus on without having the weight of a pitching staff on his mind.

    While Loney remains a moderate solution, the only external upgrades worth considering are Lucroy and Freeman, which would cost a hefty price, but may be worth exploring.

  4. May 27, 2016 at 11:50 am

    I still don’t get the love affair with Loney.

    He had a .680 OPS last year in Tampa Bay and has a .804 OPS this year in the PCL, the same league where TJ Rivera has a .945 mark. Las Vegas is a better HR park but El Paso has a higher hit factor.
    http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20150703&content_id=134278096&fext=.jsp&vkey=news_milb

    So, he’s equal (or worse) than a guy the Mets have already declined to promote twice. But we should jump through hoops to get him and cut someone from the 40-man, too? Because he was good three years ago?

    Loney would have been an asset in 2013 but it’s not 2013 anymore. I don’t want to be on the recycled veterans track anymore. Give someone from the system a chance or make a deal for a guy who’s worth being on an MLB roster rather than someone whose name merely rings a bell.

    • TexasGusCC
      May 27, 2016 at 2:23 pm

      Brian, I would agree with you except Loney has a great glove, and the Mets need that. Further, I’d love to see Rivera get a shot but if the front office isn’t bringing him up now that his tools are in play, it’s hard to believe it will happen.

      • May 27, 2016 at 3:40 pm

        Why do they need a great glove, is Flores playing SS again?

        • TexasGusCC
          May 27, 2016 at 7:06 pm

          Ouch!

    • Chris F
      May 27, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      Professional major leaguer, who has seen it all. Stabilizing force like Johnson Uribi and Cabrera…known quantities as opposed to torso experiments with rookies that need time to fail. Now is not that time.

      • May 27, 2016 at 3:37 pm

        You’re wishcasting.

        Not every veteran is a stabilizing force. And I fail to see how a known quantity is a good thing when what’s known is he’s no longer a guy you want being a starter or primary sub.

        If you want a veteran – and I know you do – at least suggest someone who’s been good more recently than 2013. Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe are both stinking up the joint this year. But at least they’re in the majors and at least they were good in 2015. I’d rather pay the freight for one of them than hope against hope with Loney.

        • Chris F
          May 27, 2016 at 5:30 pm

          No harm no foul, but clearly we have fundamentally different views of how to approach the game. No crime, but no reconciling these opposing perspectives.

          Talk about wish casting though!

          LGM

  5. Metsense
    May 27, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    Wilmer Flores, with his slightly below average 2015 95 OPS+ offense is the Mets utility infielder. His job description is to caddy for Wright, and spot start for Walker, Cabrera and Duda when they need a rest. Duda will be out at least 4 to 6 weeks and using Flores as the primary replacement results in starting Campbell too much. The solution is to promote someone within the organization but there isn’t a true first baseman ready. There is a player that is free for the asking that could be added to the mix to get through this six week period, James Loney. Loney is offensively better than Kelly and Reynolds and he is an experienced first baseman. If Duda is not ready in six weeks and the Mets realize there is a need to replace him, then they should explore the trade market at the deadline.

    • Matt Netter
      May 27, 2016 at 12:36 pm

      Metsense, sounds like we’re in agreement. Shame Dom Smith isn’t further along in his development. Here’s an interesting question…Given that Duda is no lock to be our first baseman of the future, should we think more long term about this trade and look at someone who can plug that hole for the next 5 years? Or are we that confident in Dom Smith?

  6. Chris F
    May 27, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    He is not.

  7. MattyMets
    May 27, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    Front office needs to think outside the box when they look at who might be available. Cabrera, Walker and Flores can all play third, Herrera may be ready, Duda might not be here after this season and Wright may have to shift to first anyway. I know it’s not spring training but I’m not convinced this can be fixed easily.

  8. Steevy
    May 27, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    One thing is certain,I do not want Campbell trotted out there day after day.

  9. Eraff
    May 27, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    The best move here is no move…for now. They build a fairly deep and flexible roster, and they’re patching through this. …and it’s June 1st.

    Loney is a nice Baseball Card….. he is certainly not “the answer”….he’s as much of a patch as anything else they have…. a very low upside, with a likelihood that he just cant play anymore—(psst…when 10 year Major Leaguers are in scrap city, it’s because they cant play anymore.)

    Everyone Remain Calm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Chris F
    May 28, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Welcome to NY James Loney.

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