New York Mets: 5 Creative Ways to Improve Their Team Defense

Stephen SmithContributor IIIMarch 6, 2012

New York Mets: 5 Creative Ways to Improve Their Team Defense

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    Among the numerous things the New York Mets struggled with last season—staying healthy, their poor home-run production, to name just two—their overall team defense was near the top of that list.

    New York committed the second most errors in the National League last season with 116 miscues (tied with Houston and, surprisingly, world champion St. Louis). That's just unacceptable.

    David Wright led the way with 19 errors, while since-departed Jose Reyes followed closely with 18. As a team, Terry Collins' contingent allowed 68 unearned runs, far too many for a relatively young pitching staff to bear.

    It will be interesting to see how the 2012 version of the Mets compare. Andres Torres is an upgrade in center field over the erratic Angel Pagan, and Ruben Tejada should do a fine job replacing Reyes defensively at short.

    However, questions abound. How will Daniel Murphy handle second base with two knee braces? The Mets love his bat but how much range does he have? Can Wright cut down on his miscues at the hot corner? Can Jose Thole improve behind the plate where he allowed a league-high 16 passed balls last season?

    So many questions. But what are the answers? Here are five things the Mets can do to improve their team defense before Opening Day.

5. Sign Ivan Rodriguez

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    I've said it before in an earlier piece. I know the future Hall of Famer is 39 years old, but he could back up Josh Thole for one year and serve as a great mentor to the young backstop.

    Sure, the 19-year veteran might be done. He hit just .218 last season in only 44 games with the Nationals. The Mets have expressed some interest in him but have not made a move to sign him yet.

    I think they should sign the former AL MVP to a minor league contract and have him start working with Thole immediately in spring training. Who better to learn from than the 13-time Gold Glove winner? Thole, who struggled defensively last season, could use all the help he can get.

    "Pudge" might even be able to secure the backup catcher position with a solid spring training. Mike Nickeas is currently listed on the depth chart as the No. 2 backstop but he hit just .189 in 2011 and does not have nearly the pedigree that Rodriguez does.

    The Mets have nothing to lose at this point.

4. Move the Fences in Even More at Citi Field

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    Moving in the fences this season at Citi Field was a smart move. If the Mets are going to be bad (and they sure look like it on paper), why not add some excitement and see more home runs hit in the still cavernous Queens ballpark?

    Shortening the dimensions and the height of the walls will also aid the Mets' outfield defense (less room to cover) for Jason Bay, Andres Torres and Lucas Duda. Torres is an upgrade over Angel Pagan in center, no question. He's one of the best defensive center fielders in all of baseball.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, the Mets were last in the National League in outfield "zone rating," which measures how often balls hit into a player's general fielding area are turned into outs. Last year, Mets outfielders converted 84.8 percent of possible outs into actual outs (Dodgers outfielders led baseball with 89.2 percent). Quite a difference.

    Bay is average at best in left and Duda is a real liability in right field. Move in the fences another five feet all around and lessen the amount of room that the aging Bay and plodding Duda have to patrol in the outfield.

    And see a few more home runs hit to boot.

3. Sign Mike Cameron as Outfield Coach

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    The former Met (2004-05) finally hung up his cleats this winter after a solid 17-year career as one of baseball's premier defensive outfielders. The 39-year-old Georgia native was smooth as silk gliding down hard-hit balls in center field.

    The Mets brass should be creative and sign Cameron as an outfield coach to help Jason Bay and Lucas Duda improve. Andres Torres really doesn't need the help, but why not listen to one of the best center fielders of his era?

    What's more, outfielder Scott Hairston strained his left oblique muscle in last Saturday’s intrasquad game. Hairston suffered a similar injury last Aug. 23 and ended his season on the disabled list. It's not known how long Hairston will be out.

    Adam Loewen and Kirk Nieuwenhuis will now get an opportunity to earn the backup center field job. Who better to teach and mentor them than Cameron?

2. Work on David Wright's Throwing Mechanics

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    A two-time Gold Glove winner in 2007 and 2008, David Wright has shown some signs of slipping a little defensively in recent years.

    We've all seen him make some brilliant stops at the hot corner, and who can forget that great over-the-shoulder bare-handed catch he made chasing down a pop up in San Diego a few years ago?

    The problem comes with Wright's throwing. As Met fans know, Wright sails his throws quite often to first base, either drawing Ike Davis off the bag or pounding his throw into the dirt for an error. This issue is one of the reasons his fielding percentage has dipped from .956 in 2010 to just .929 last season.

    During spring training, manager Terry Collins and company should work on helping Wright improve his throwing mechanics, perhaps coming over the top more in his throwing motion. You know Wright is a very hard worker and takes a lot of pride in his defense.

    Perhaps it will help Wright cut his errors in half by the time the 2012 campaign is over.

1. The Infield Shuffle

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    One thing the Mets do have going for them is their infield depth and roster flexibility. There are a lot of interchangeable parts that manager Terry Collins can use during the course of the season.

    Newly acquired Ronny Cedeno is an experienced and versatile infielder that can play shortstop, second base and even third base when needed. He played 125 games at shortstop for the Pirates last year and owned a solid .978 fielding percentage. He's also played 81 career games at second base and 13 at the hot corner.

    Cedeno can fill in for Ruben Tejada at short if needed, or combine with him in late-inning defensive situations by playing second base. Or vice versa. 

    With Cedeno and Tejada manning the middle of the diamond and Andres Torres in center field, the Mets have an excellent defensive trio for late-inning leads.

    Justin Turner can chip in as well by playing second or third base, while Daniel Murphy can slide over to third or first base when needed. Look for the Tejada-Cedeno combination to become prominent in the eighth and ninth innings this season.