The 2018 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were issued this week. Among the list of 54 finalists (three at each position per league) and 19 winners (there was one tie) there was not one single Mets player.
Examining the list, it is noteworthy that 12 of the 19 winners were from playoff teams. Exposure helps, sure, but there’s no denying that defense helps a team win. The Red Sox outfield defense saved hits from falling and runs from scoring in seemingly every game leading up to their World Series victory.
Our previous General Manager, Sandy Alderson, felt that defense was overrated, and historically he wasn’t alone. For many years, the Mets have played players out of position in an attempt to score a few more runs, but certainly offset that with additional runs allowed. Howard Johnson and Wilmer Flores at shortstop, Mike Piazza and Jay Bruce at first base, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda in left field, and a host of corner outfielders masquerading as bad center fielders.
Over the years the Mets have had some fine gloves, even 20 Gold Glove winners – Tommie Agee (1970), Bud Harrelson (1971), Doug Flynn (1980), Keith Hernandez (1983-88), Ron Darling (1989), Rey Ordonez (1997-99), Robin Ventura (1999), Carlos Beltran (2006-08), David Wright (2007-08), and Juan Lagares (2014). The awards are certainly subjective, and historically based more on reputation than analytics, but that’s likely changed these past 10 years. In 2015, Jacob deGrom won the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award for pitchers, but yet wasn’t a Rawlings Gold Glove finalist. Hmmm.
Having just one Mets Gold Glove winner in the past 10 years speaks to team philosophy more than anything else. This needs to change. A strong defense gives young pitchers confidence and allows veteran pitchers the wiggle room to take chances as they trust the men behind them. Former closer Jeurys Familia, when at his best, has an ability to make hitters pound the ball into the ground, but what good is that if ground balls keep finding holes through the infield?
A strong defense gives a team a better chance of winning close games. It’s a secret weapon and perhaps an undervalued asset, along with team speed. Overachieving teams with low payrolls and few big name players that manage to play .500 or even sneak into the playoffs like the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s can often thank their legs and gloves. It’s about more than just sure-handed players that don’t make a lot of errors and catchers who can throw out base runners. It’s about fast players with range to chase down balls in the outfield gap, holding doubles to singles and turning hits into outs. It’s about rangy second baseman closing off that right side gap that has seemed like a chasm for the Mets since the Edgardo Alfonso days. The keystone is a spot for an athletic player who can cover a lot of ground and make game changing plays. For the Mets these past 10 years it’s been a place to plug guys with balky knees and flat feet.
Jeff McNeil looked better than expected in his time at second base in Queens, but he’s played third base as well and Todd Frazier is coming off the worst season of his career and entering his walk year. Among the free agents at second base is three-time Gold Glove winner D.J. LeMahieu. The Rockies second baseman was credited with 18 DRS in 2018, second most in the Majors. He’s also a career .298 hitter with a .350 OBP who won the NL batting title in 2016.
When the Mets look at catchers in particular, they need to look for defense. There is no Mike Piazza right now. There is no catcher putting up MVP offensive numbers. Rather than overpaying in trade or free agent dollars for a catcher because he can hit 20 home runs, the Mets should zero in on the best backstop they can find. It’s a defensive first position and with a few exceptions (Yadier Molina) few of these guys can maintain health and consistency into their later years.
The Royals are rebuilding and have a catcher with a sizable contract (by their standards). Salvador Perez is not a great offensive player when you consider his inability to draw walks, but he’s won five Gold Gloves and in each of the past two seasons he’s slugged 27 home runs and driven in 80 runs. Perez is also, by all accounts, a clubhouse leader. There are other trade targets at catcher that might cost less in prospects, like San Diego’s Austin Hedges, who’s got one of the best arms in the game.
Defense matters and it’s cheaper than offense. The list of active players who have Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers on their mantle is short and includes, among a few others, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Jose Altuve, Francisco Lindor, and Paul Goldschmidt. The cream of the crop. Players whose teams wouldn’t dream of trading them (except for maybe the last one) because they know how rare these silver and gold players are. But if you’re a GM not fortunate enough to own one, you need to sprinkle in some gold with the silver to find the winning combination.